Media spotlight forced Awana to resign, Lingle says
» Fukunaga is new chief of staff
STORY SUMMARY »
Gov. Linda Lingle came out swinging against the news media yesterday, blaming them for forcing the resignation of her chief of staff, Bob Awana, on June 28.
In her first detailed response about the blackmail, extortion and a possible federal probe of dealings in Saipan, the governor said Awana did nothing wrong, but the news media kept reporting about it.
Lingle said she and Awana feared the publicity involving him was too distracting to the state administration, so they jointly agreed he would leave, she said yesterday.
The governor made the comments after announcing the appointment of Transportation Director Barry Fukunaga as Awana’s replacement.
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News reports about blackmail, extortion and a possible federal probe of dealings in Saipan -- and not any impropriety -- forced chief of staff Bob Awana to resign June 28, Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday.
In announcing the appointment yesterday of Awana's successor, Barry Fukunaga, Lingle offered the first detailed response to Awana's departure.
In June, Lingle's communications staff said the governor would not talk about the extortion case because it was still in court and there was the possibility of a federal investigation into Awana's dealings with the former governor of Saipan. Awana denied that he did anything improper.
The criminal case involved Indian national Radjatta Patkar, who was indicted April 27 on charges of extorting Awana via an e-mail threatening to expose that Awana had given money and gifts to women in the Philippines.
Patkar confessed to the crime and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright to one year in federal prison, followed by one year of supervised released. Patkar was arrested last December and was scheduled to be deported this month.
Yesterday, Lingle said she and Awana feared the publicity involving Awana was too distracting to the state administration, so they jointly agreed Awana should leave.
"He and I reached it mutually," Lingle said.
"We have been together a very long time and know each other well. We know the media well. We have been in politics a long time. ... It was pretty clear to us that it just wouldn't stop.
"Obviously we didn't want to put out more information, more personal things," Lingle said.
"Bob resigned because of the media attention and the sensationalization of him being a victim of blackmail and his personal life and personal issues.
"It was determined that the media wouldn't let up and it would take away from our focus. He made the decision and I agreed to it," Lingle said.
The governor said Awana "was blackmailed just as anyone here who is married and went online and had a relationship with someone would be subject to blackmail."
"The issue surrounding Bob was because of something he did personally that had nothing to do with his role in government or his time in government or his use of any government resources, but the fact is the media would not let up on it," Lingle told reporters.
According to Pamela Byrne, deputy U.S. public defender, Patkar met a woman in the Philippines online and was romantically involved.
"He loved her, had very strong feelings for her," Byrne, who was representing Patkar, said after the sentencing in October.
When the woman stopped responding to his e-mails, Patkar hacked into her e-mail account and that of a girlfriend. In the girlfriend's e-mail accounts, Patkar found e-mails from Awana, referred to as "Mr. A."
Byrne said Mr. A encouraged the two women to go with him and a friend.
Yesterday, Lingle said she asked Awana if he had done anything improper on state time or during the two state trips to the Philippines, and Awana denied it.
"I have found no information that would lead me to believe it was done on state trips, on state time or with state resources," Lingle said.
Lingle criticized the news media, including the Associated Press, saying it has said there was a federal investigation into Awana's trips but never said where it got the information.
"The fact is, you kept repeating things that simply were not true, that you didn't source, that you had no evidence of," Lingle said.
Asked why she did not comment earlier, Lingle said she had nothing more to add.
"I had no knowledge of anything happening on an official trip," she said. "We just thought that that if we stopped talking about it, you (the news media) would stop talking about it.
"Instead, you continued to quote unnamed people, unnamed sources, over and over again. ... I think the burden is on you as journalists to tell what you know," Lingle said.
The Associated Press said it did not use anonymous sources in its Awana coverage.
Gov. Linda Lingle listened yesterday as her newly appointed chief of staff, former state Transportation Director Barry Fukunaga, spoke during a news conference at the state Capitol.
Fukunaga is new chief of staff
A top senator praises him as hard-working and straightforward
State Transportation Director Barry Fukunaga, who has been at the center of harsh criticism and questioning over his agency's handling of the Hawaii Superferry, has been named the new chief of staff for Gov. Linda Lingle.
Lingle announced Fukunaga's promotion yesterday, effective immediately.
"Barry is a person who has tremendous respect among our entire Cabinet," Lingle said yesterday at a news conference in her office.
Fukunaga replaces Bob Awana, who resigned from the post earlier this year after it was learned he was the target of an extortion plot linked to some of his travel in Asia.
"I certainly look forward to my new role and working with our Cabinet and all the members in it," Fukunaga said.
The appointment does not require Senate confirmation.
Senate President Colleen Hanabusa praised Fukunaga, calling him "hard-working and straightforward."
Fukunaga was confirmed as transportation director by the Senate 24-0 in March, succeeding Rod Haraga, who was not asked back to be part of Lingle's Cabinet in her second term.
The Transportation Department came under fire after the state Supreme Court ruled in August that an environmental assessment should have been performed before the state proceeded with $40 million in harbor improvements to accommodate the Hawaii Superferry.
Fukunaga and Lingle had said the assessment was waived because they saw no need to subject the ferry to additional steps that are not required of other harbor users.
The issue ultimately was settled in a special session last month, when the Legislature changed the law to allow the ferry to sail.
Brennon Morioka, deputy transportation director in charge of highways, was named acting transportation director.
Lingle's next appointee as permanent director will be subject to Senate confirmation.
Joy Watari, who had been serving as acting chief of staff since Awana's resignation in June, will return to her post as deputy chief of staff, Lingle said.
Star-Bulletin reporter Richard Borreca contributed to this report.
Facts on Fukunaga
Barry Fukunaga was appointed yesterday as Gov. Linda Lingle's chief of staff, effective immediately.
Previous job: Director, state Department of Transportation (confirmed March 2007)
Education: Master's degree in public administration, bachelor's degree in business administration, University of Hawaii
Previous experience: Deputy director, state Department of Transportation (appointed October 2004); director of city Department of Enterprise Services; deputy director of city Department of Environmental Services. Served in various capacities for 25 years with the state Department of Transportation, Airports Division, including airports manager, airports operations manager and airports services supervisor.