ATLANTA — Fulton County’s incoming district attorney has asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into whether the current DA’s staff is illegally destroying state records.
Channel 2 Action News has obtained an email that directed prosecutors in the current DA’s office to bring in records they want placed in so-called “burn boxes.”
The current district attorney, Paul Howard, denies that any official documents are being destroyed.
Howard initially ignored the issue raised by Fani Willis, who defeated Howard in last month’s runoff election.
Now, Howard said the only papers to be destroyed are excess records and waste—not official documents that need to be preserved.
Willis wants the GBI to sort it out. She expressed concern about the destruction as soon as she won a landslide victory over Howard last month.
“Are you satisfied that there is record integrity, that things are not being destroyed?” Belcher asked Willis.
“No, actually,” Willis said.
But her concerns turned to alarm when, she said, several employees inside the DA’s office gave her an email written eight days after her win.
In it, the records custodian in the DA’s office gives clear instructions to all attorneys about the use of so-called burn boxes to destroy documents.
Now, Willis has put her concerns in writing.
In a letter to GBI Director Vic Reynolds, the incoming DA referenced the burn boxes email and requested that the GBI “investigate why the email was circulated and which records may have been destroyed.”
“There is a very, very strict, state statute and a law of how records—state documents—can be destroyed, so that caused me grave concerns,” Willis said.
After disputing neither the existence of the email nor Willis' concerns on Wednesday, Howard sent a long response Thursday and pictures of boxes being held for pickup by the Fulton County archives center.
Howard said the papers in question are “excess documents, waste paper, not official records.”
He says they are collected by the county archives every four months.
About official documents, Howard wrote, “we do not destroy records. To destroy such records has never happened during my tenure here in Fulton County. If Fani Willis' transition team would like to review the paper, they can simply contact my office to do so.”
Willis sent a statement Thursday noting that the GBI is already investigating Howard himself for taking more than $200,000 from a nonprofit affiliated with his office.
She said, “I sincerely hope the district attorney’s statement is full and complete,” but added, “The GBI should have the opportunity to inspect any records before they are destroyed.”
On Friday, the state attorney general’s office announced it has also asked the GBI to investigate the matter. A spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said the GBI has been directed to open a probe.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this article.
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