Local Democrats are questioning Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan over how controversial texts between her and Congresswoman Katie Porter were leaked to national media.
The texts in question came after a fight broke out at Porter’s first in-person town hall following the COVID-19 shutdowns last year, when a group of Porter critics began to insult the congresswoman and one of Porter’s supporters was arrested after throwing a punch at the hecklers.
Porter didn’t like how Irvine PD handled the protestors at her event.
In texts to Khan, Porter said she would “never trust them again,” when talking about the Irvine Police Department.
“Your police force is a disgrace,” Porter wrote.
That text comment eventually landed in national media.
There’s now a lot of questioning from residents over how the texts, which are public records, got to the national media.
Khan maintains that city officials simply released the texts between her and Porter to comply with public records requests by Fox News and CNN to see them, something authorized by California law.
“There were public records requests from CNN and Fox News for conversations between me, IPD, and the Congresswoman. I complied. I did not leak these,” Khan wrote in a tweet.
Yet the Irvine City Clerk’s office disputes that.
“A response was not provided to Fox News Digital until today,” wrote Isela Ruiz, a member of the city’s records staff, in an email posted by former Irvine resident Michael Fox last Thursday on Twitter. “Therefore, the screenshot published in the article you shared did not come from our office, as these records were just made available.”
A review of the timeline doesn’t seem to add up.
Fox News broke the story on the texts on September 26, four days after they filed their records request, saying they’d exclusively obtained the texts.
Yet the city’s records department says they didn’t release the texts to Fox until Oct. 13, and CNN did not receive records until Oct. 3 according to city staff.
That means Fox News couldn’t have gotten the information via a public records request.
Khan and Porter did not respond to requests for comment.
The texts recently sparked controversy in a congressional district national Republicans are looking to take back in next month’s election.
Fox News was the first outlet to report on the texts, and the National Republican Congressional Committee has also taken aim at Porter, picking up the Fox story and posting it in full on their website as a reason to vote against her.
In the story, Fox only wrote they’d “exclusively obtained,” the texts, but did not reveal the source.
Questions on where Fox got the messages resurfaced on Friday morning, when Twitter user Jenna Beck reposted the NRCC page, asking “Why did you do this @FarrahNK?”
On her Twitter page, Khan repeatedly denied being the source of the information, saying the information came from the public records requests, and posted copies of the memos she received from city staff asking for the texts.
Khan also claimed in a separate tweet that she informed party officials when she received a public records request so they knew the information would be released.
However, Ada Briceño, chair of the local Democratic Party, said they didn’t hear from Farrah until three hours after the story had already aired.
“I think it aired at 9 a.m. and about three hours after we heard from her, so it was after the fact,” Briceno said in an interview with Voice of OC.
Both Porter and Khan have faced controversy this election cycle.
An investigation by the Associated Press found that while Porter hasn’t taught at UC Irvine since getting elected in 2018, she’s still living in a house that’s subsidized by the university for working professors, leading to questions on if it was an ethics violation for her to keep the home.
Khan was pulled into the spotlight earlier this year over her close connections to Melahat Rafiei, a power broker in the local Democratic party who resigned her positions after it came out the FBI arrested her for allegedly trying to bribe Irvine City Council members and asked her to wear a wire.
Read: Irvine Mayor Distances Herself From Former Top Democratic Party Official Involved in FBI Probe
Rafiei eventually stopped cooperating with the FBI according to affidavits released earlier this year, and the charges against her were dropped without prejudice, which means they can be filed again at any time.
Rafiei says she has never been charged with a crime, and while the FBI declined to speak on an ongoing investigation, they stood by the accuracy of their report.
[Read: Key Witness for FBI Anaheim Probe Disputes Feds’ Account That She Was Arrested Before Cooperating]
Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election forecasting website, considered Porter’s new 47th Congressional District as leaning Democrat.
FiveThirtyEight, another election forecasting website, gave Porter an 83% chance of winning based on simulated elections.
Porter’s opponent, Republican Scott Baugh has also faced controversy during his political career
Baugh, former assemblyman, was indicted in 1996 for allegedly falsifying campaign reports.
He agreed to pay a nealy $48,000 to the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission in 1999 after the charge of falsifying campaign records was dismissed, according to the LA Times.
According to data from the OC Registrar of Voters, Democrats have a slight edge in voting registration – 160,485 voters compared to 152,962 registered Republicans. There’s also nearly 112,000 no party preference voters in the 45th Congressional District.
Khan has also repeatedly faced questions on transparency surrounding the OC Power Authority, the Great Park and other issues throughout the city from residents who say she’s not doing enough.
Porter and Khan have both faced criticisms over the All American Asphalt plant in the city of Irvine, with residents living near the factory questioning how it remains open nearly two years after protests against it began to pick up traction.
“For over four years Irvine residents have asked and in some cases begged Porter and Khan to take action to get safeguards in place from one of the largest emitters of benzene in Orange County!” said Kim Konte, one of the lead resident organizers against the factory, in a statement to Voice of OC.
“The bottom line is Porter and Khan have failed to protect public health and safety and our children in the very city they call home!”
[Read: CA Regulators Conclude Odors From An Irvine Asphalt Factory Are Safe But Homeowners Unconvinced]
The city of Irvine is currently suing the factory for creating a public nuisance, and decided not to settle the case at their last meeting after pushback from residents who said the presented settlement agreement was too weak.
Porter has not pushed for any action on the issue, with state senator Dave Min being the only official above the city level to speak on the issue.
Read: Irvine Council, State Senator Play Hot Potato on Addressing Asphalt Factory Emissions
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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