Heather Everly Credit: City of Lewiston

Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard acknowledged Wednesday that a woman with whom he had a relationship provided him damaging internal campaign emails from his opponent and were eventually obtained by a website run by an operative for the Maine Republican Party.

Bouchard also confirmed that he discussed the emails with Lewiston resident Heather Berube Everly in text messages in which he described her as his “secret weapon.”

Everly worked for Bouchard’s opponent, Ben Chin, during the hotly contested 2017 race, which became a proxy battle between the Maine Republican and Democratic parties.

Bouchard prevailed in the runoff, but not before the damaging emails from Chin’s campaign were obtained by Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage. Just before the runoff election, Savage published some of the emails in a post on the Maine Examiner, an anonymous website originally disguised as a news service but later revealed to be operated by Savage.

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Until Wednesday, it was unclear how Savage and the Examiner obtained the emails. But Everly revealed, during a sparsely attended Lewiston City Council meeting Tuesday, that she has obtained the emails and shared them with Bouchard.

“I did work with Ben Chin as a recruiter with Maine People’s Alliance and, around the time of the residency restrictions, I connected with Mayor Bouchard, where I had an affair with him,” Everly told the council, adding, “I gave the emails to Shane Bouchard … and he then gave those emails to the Republican Party, to Jason Savage, who wrote articles for the Maine Examiner that twisted Ben’s words and made him out to be a racist or to be pointing fingers at other people as racist.”

Bouchard reportedly denied the allegations when contacted by the Lewiston Sun Journal. But in an interview with Maine Public Radio, he only disputed that he had provided Chin’s emails to Savage and the Maine Republican Party. He said it was Everly who provided the emails to the GOP.

“I had no idea what anybody was going to do with that information, how it was going to be done. I was still looking at doing something with it personally with my campaign,” Bouchard told Maine Public Radio.

Credit: Christopher Cousins | BDN

Everly could not be reached for this story, but during her comments to the Lewiston City Council, she acknowledged that she had shared the emails with Bouchard and that they ended up in the hands of Savage and the GOP.

“I’m not completely innocent in this,” she said, “and it’s taken a lot of time and finding people to support me through this. But again, I would really like for the council to consider forfeiting our mayor’s position.”

The revelations reopen a controversy that could have local ramifications for Bouchard, and potentially, the Maine Republican Party.

The Maine Examiner’s role in influencing the mayoral race, and Savage’s involvement, triggered a complaint last year by the Maine Democratic Party. Democrats argued that the site effectively operated as an arm of the Republican Party and violated campaign finance laws because it didn’t report election expenditures made on Bouchard’s behalf.

[This Maine ‘news’ site may have tipped a big election]

Savage said he operated the site independent of the party, describing it as a side project designed to “inform people.”

In a split vote, the Maine Ethics Commission declined to investigate the complaint after two commissioners argued that a probe would unlikely determine if Savage’s website and the GOP worked collaboratively to influence the mayoral election. As a result, ethics staff was not authorized to request documents from Savage and the GOP to determine if the Examiner project was a joint venture that broke campaign finance or disclosure laws.

But a text exchange shared by Everly on Facebook appears to suggest that Bouchard knew the Examiner and the GOP were working in concert. In the exchange, which Bouchard confirmed to Maine Public Radio, expresses reservations about the Examiner post that reveals Chin’s leaked email.

“It seems so dirty,” she wrote.

[Republican backed by LePage wins Lewiston mayoral election]

Bouchard replied, “It’s not bad. They could have gone into several other emails also where he called people racists, asshole, bad Democrats, whinny (sic) rich people. This is the top (sic) of the iceberg.” He added, “Either way, I need you down the stretch. You’re my secret weapon!”

While Bouchard denied to Maine Public Radio that he personally provided the emails to the Maine Republican Party, he says it would not have been illegal if he had.

“I could have sent them every email that is there, and there is nothing wrong with me doing that and helping them with information. I just can’t coordinate with them on expenditures,” he said.

Savage, in a email, also said that Bouchard did not provide him with Chin’s emails.

“My source for the emails was not Shane Bouchard. The emails were provided to me by another person,” Savage wrote. “As far as what Shane Bouchard knew about the emails and where they had been sent or who had them, I can’t speak to that. I don’t know who else knew about them or had them.” He added, “This matter was dealt with by the Maine Ethics Commission and my name was cleared. Nothing has changed.”

[Maine GOP director’s link to anonymous website adds fuel to ethics complaint]

Bouchard may not be in legal jeopardy, but he could face scrutiny from the Lewiston City Council. According to the city’s charter, the council can investigate activities of any city, department, office or agency. Such action requires six votes from the eight-member council, which includes the mayor.

It’s also unclear whether Bouchard’s conduct could have violated any ethics rules for the city’s elected officials.

Denis D’Auteuil, the city’s deputy administrator, said the city will review the accusations made by Everly before determining what steps should be taken.

Bouchard said he’s confident that he has the council’s backing, adding that he had spoken with several of them previously about “rumors” circulated by Everly before she addressed the council on Tuesday.

Ben Chin declined to comment.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.