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Screengrab of e-mail from Gawker reporter John Cook.
Screengrab of e-mail from Gawker reporter John Cook.

Doug Ford defends Rob Ford as internal e-mails reveal how staffers responded to scandal Add to ...

Toronto councillor Doug Ford defended his brother Mayor Rob Ford after newly released e-mails from his former staffers showed they sometimes had trouble finding the mayor, saying "I wouldn't say he was missing in action."

Thousands of e-mails belonging to Mayor Ford’s staffers were released Monday after a freedom of information request. They offer a glimpse inside the mayor’s office as his staff attempted to control the crack cocaine story, and fight off one of the biggest political scandals in the city’s history.

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One example of the mayor's former staffers having trouble tracking down the mayor happened on May 3 of last year. On that morning, according to one staffer's e-mail, the mayor's attendance at an 11 a.m. councillors' briefing was in doubt because the mayor's cellphone was turned off and he didn't answer his home phone as of around 10:30 a.m. A staffer was dispatched to the mayor's home. Parking records show the mayor's car did not arrive at City Hall until around 11:30 a.m. On Tuesday, Doug Ford said he wouldn't "comment on previous employees," and accused reporters who cited the May and June, 2013 e-mails of trying to "dig up the past." But he didn't offer specifics on why his brother's staffers appeared to have trouble finding the mayor when he was due at meetings or official events.

At 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 16, an e-mail marked “URGENT” landed in the inbox of Mayor Ford’s press secretary that changed everything.

“I viewed a videotape showing Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine,” the message from Gawker reporter John Cook said. “The owner of the video is attempting to sell it.” He planned on publishing the story that night along with a photo of the mayor with Anthony Smith – a young man who had been gunned down just months earlier in downtown Toronto.

Just three minutes after receiving the Gawker e-mail, George Christopoulos had forwarded it to his assistant Isaac Ransom. Five minutes after that, he sent it to the mayor’s then-chief of staff Mark Towhey. In one e-mail, Mr. Christopoulos said to Mr. Towhey that he was “begging” Mayor Ford to stay off the radio. “Exhausting,” he wrote. Mr. Christopoulos and Mr. Towhey also exchanged e-mails with Dennis Morris, the mayor’s long-time family friend and lawyer. The content of those e-mails is redacted.

By 8:28 p.m. – just an hour after Mr. Cook’s initial e-mail – the article appeared on Gawker’s website, under the headline: “For Sale: A Video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Smoking Crack Cocaine.”

Almost immediately, reporters began calling from all over the world. One e-mail from a Toronto reporter, with the subject line “Hey – Rob Ford and crack”, simply read: “Call me.” Another, sent at 2:56 a.m. the following morning, was from a news editor at CNN.

And though Mr. Christopoulos’ inbox was filled with e-mails immediately following the crack report, the inboxes of his colleagues – normally busy with the mayor’s many meeting requests and scheduling changes – appear to quiet down.

Between 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon until 1:30 p.m. the next day, there’s no record of David Price, the mayor’s family friend and director of operations and logistics, having sent a single e-mail. And the mayor’s deputy press secretary Isaac Ransom – normally a feverish e-mailer – does not appear to have sent any e-mail for 24 hours from 3 p.m. on the 16th onward, despite a mountain of media requests.

However, it didn’t look like the staffers stopped talking to one another. The next day, the mayor’s executive assistant Kia Nejatian circulated a note asking staffers for their contact information. Just a few days later, Mr. Price sent BlackBerry Messenger “add requests” to at least two others in the mayor’s office. The e-mails could also have simply been withheld. According to city staff, hundreds of pages of e-mails deemed “personal” or containing advice or recommendations were not released.

The mayor’s office did not respond to the many reporters’ messages – in the following weeks, requests came from the Wall Street Journal, the Piers Morgan show on CNN, and Newsweek magazine. But Mr. Price’s e-mails illustrate his attitude towards those reporters.

“Hoping we’re out of crisis mode now,” Mr. Price wrote in a June 10 message. “No nasty bozos with broadcast cameras camped out in our lobby scaring away our disabled and senior constituents wanting to visit us TODAY!”

And an indication of the difficulty staff had in managing the mayor is seen in an exchange on May 22 about the mayor’s attendance at the funeral of Toronto Sun founding editor Peter Worthington. At 8: 48 that morning Mr. Christopoulos writes, “He should not go to Worthington’s funeral today. 1. His attendance will spoil the day. 2. Media will be there in full force, covering it (funeral). The response from Earl Provost, then deputy chief of staff, at 10:18, “Who tells him no?”

The mayor attended the service.

And though, in the months following, the mayor would eventually lose the support of his colleagues on City Council, at least one fellow councillor reached out immediately after the crack report. Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly – who has butted heads with Mayor Ford several times since many of the mayor’s powers were transferred to him in a November vote – sent Mr. Towhey an e-mail the next morning. His e-mail was short, but to the point: “Oh, boy!!!!”

With reports from Patrick White

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