In a sign her troubles have undergone a significant expansion, the Washington Free Beacon reported last week that former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has hired a lawyer as new details of her use of private email accounts to conduct official government business were revealed.
The agency and its previous head have still breathed easy despite months of inquiries and Freedom of Information Act requests fromChris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and American Tradition Institute. Jackson and enviro-crats have been shielded by colleagues’ efforts to block access to records, delay their delivery, or conceal damning information with redactions. Nevertheless the indefatigable Horner has continued to pepper the agency with new requests from new angles almost every time he discovers a new hint of malfeasance revealed from previous requests.
What seems to have alarmed Jackson – who is now Apple’s top environmental officer – is the revelation that she communicated with an official with Siemens from her alternative “Richard Windsor” account, which was revealed previously thanks to earlier Horner FOIAs. But even that cloaked “EPA.org” account didn’t provide enough secrecy for Jackson to hide missives she might not want prying eyes to see, so she made a request of Alison Taylor, a vice president for the multinational company.
“Can you use my home email rather than this one when you need to contact me directly?” Jackson asked. “Tx, Lisa.”
Conducting official government business on private accounts is illegal, if used for the purpose of concealment. The crime is punishable with a fine or imprisonment of not more than three years, or both. Also, the offender “shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.” According to Horner, the message Jackson sent Taylor showed a deliberate effort to hide from the public how government business was conducted.
“There’s no ambiguity here,” said Horner to the Free Beacon. “This reflects a clear intention to violate law and policy.”
The conservative news site reported that Jackson hired Washington-based attorney Barry Coburn, which he wouldn’t confirm to them, but did a day later to Politico.
“Lisa Jackson has been a dedicated public servant who served her country honorably for over two decades,” Coburn said in a statement. “She has engaged in no wrongdoing of any kind. She is committed to responding appropriately to any inquiry initiated by any forum. We have offered to assist her in doing so.”
Unfortunately for the taxpayers who paid her salary, “responding appropriately” did not mean “rapid and forthcoming” under Jackson’s EPA reign, which was supposed to operate under President Obama’s “unprecedented level of openness in government.” In addition to Horner and CEI, House and Senate members who exercise oversight of the executive branch (and specifically EPA) have sought records and demanded explanations about use of the alias email accounts.
In November Texas Rep. Ralph Hall, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, sent a request to EPA’s Inspector General to review whether the agency complied with the Freedom of Information Act and Federal Records Act. The response he received was not enlightening.
“Given the large volume of emails sent to the public account — more than 1.5 million in fiscal year 2012, for instance — the secondary email account is necessary for effective management and communication between the Administrator and colleagues,” Associate Administrator Arvin Ganesan said in his Dec. 12 letter. He explained that the practice is “commonly employed in both the public and the private sector.”
Even so, the EPA Inspector General initiated an audit of the handling of the agency’s electronic records.
Then in December Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), wrote to Jackson “that you describe fully the nature and extent of this practice.” At the time the congressmen wanted to know whether EPA’s records custodians responded to FOIA requests for Jackson’s correspondence by searching her (and others’) alias accounts – as opposed to their email addresses for public correspondence that they didn’t conduct their business on – for relevant materials. The committee leaders asked Jackson for “a detailed description of EPA’s procedures that ensure that all your ‘internal’ email accounts…are included in any search for responsive information or materials when EPA receives Congressional committee requests for information or documents….”
EPA began producing records in January from Jackson’s “Richard Windsor” email account that had a lot of text obliterated with black marker – so much that Horner called it a “defective compilation (that) boasts an impressively anemic content-to-volume ratio.” Even the name “Windsor” was redacted from the messages.
“I don’t know any other agency that does this,” said Anne Weismann, chief counsel of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, to Politico. “Why would you pick a fictitious name of someone of different gender? To me it smacks of…trying to hide.”
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., the Ranking Minority Member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and his colleagues upped the pressure on EPA at that point as well.
“EPA’s supposed reliance on ‘precedent’ is especially misleading because they’re clearly using a separate and distinct practice than previous Administrations,” Vitter said. “And if ‘Richard Windsor’ is no more than a standard work email account, why not share the unredacted versions and prove it to the American public?”
The practice was not limited to Jackson, of course, as it was discovered in other Obama administration agencies and was also used within EPA by both Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe and Jackson’s permanent replacement, former assistant administrator Gina McCarthy, who was only allowed to be confirmed last month after Vitter won concessions from EPA on transparency measures. But the revelation that Jackson evaded even beyond the “Windsor” account disturbed the senator.
“For months this Administration has brushed off transparency concerns, especially when it comes to federal record-keeping laws. Former EPA Administrator Jackson, aka ‘Richard Windsor’, has been the biggest culprit,” Vitter said. “Even with EPA’s recent promises to review and revamp its email practices and policies, the mere fact that the agency’s Administrator was trying to circumvent ‘sunshine’ laws is a huge red flag for the effectiveness of the agency and the Administration.”
Vitter, on Fox News, pledged to “go after” all of Jackson’s communications while she was at EPA from all her accounts. “Generally what’s being hidden is a very cozy relationship between this EPA and far-left environmental groups,” he said.
Which coincides with Jackson’s hiring of Coburn as her legal counsel. In June NLPC wondered why Apple, Inc., and CEO Tim Cook, would want to bring her and her baggage into a company that has enjoyed success but whose stock price has been in decline lately. In an interview with the Fuqua School of Business, at his alma mater Duke University, Cook explained how part of his management philosophy is to “look for people that are not political, people that are not bureaucrats….”
Besides the email fiasco, Jackson has other ethically questionable activities that occurred on her watch: Regional EPA administrators whose practice was to “crucify” oil and gas companies; EPA’s war against coalcompanies and utilities; excessive, controversial regulations; and experiments on human beings that piped diesel exhaust into their lungs.
“Tim Cook should think twice,” said Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank that also owns stock in Apple. “President Obama’s cabinet officers may get away with all kinds of things (or they may not, in the end), but the Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine makes CEOs potentially criminally liable for any misdeeds of subordinates, even if they don’t know about them.”
Wonder if the “non-political” Cook has asked Jackson why she needs a lawyer all of a sudden.
[First published at the National Legal and Policy Center.]