Written by Matthew Vadum
A media outlet has uncovered what may be a massive conspiracy by the Obama administration to evade public accountability laws — and in at least one case to intimidate the media from asking questions.
“There is widespread use throughout the administration of private email accounts to do public business for the obvious reason that it avoids transparency,” Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow and attorney Christopher C. Horner told this writer in an interview yesterday. Horner is also author of The Liberal War on Transparency.
Horner spoke in light of the Associated Press discovery that some of President Obama’s political appointees — including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other HHS officials — are using secret email accounts to communicate. This appears to be illegal because federal law requires that certain government records be preserved. Federal agencies are required to keep emails in the event they are needed for congressional or other investigations or for lawsuits.
The lame explanation offered by the scandal-plagued Obama administration is that officials like Sebelius need the secret email accounts so they’re not swamped with unwanted emails.
In other words, the Obama administration knows what the law is but chooses to ignore it.
Shortly after his inauguration in 2009, Obama promised to make government more transparent and open. In a memo, Obama said, “The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.”
Like so many of the president’s promises, this one has been all but forgotten as the caudillo-like Obama works the levers of power to undermine the Constitution and expand presidential authority.
As for Sebelius, no wonder the ethically challenged HHS secretary feels the need to communicate via hidden email accounts.
Sebelius is a longtime lawbreaker. The corrupt cabinet member violated the Hatch Act last year and has been shaking down businesses and charitable groups ACORN-style for large donations to help implement Obamacare. Sebelius also intends to pay potentially billions of dollars to members of radical Saul Alinsky-inspired groups to educate the public about the wonders of Obamacare and get them to sign up.
Hidden email accounts have also been found at the Department of Labor. In a stunning act of chutzpah, Obama’s Labor Department attempted to shake down AP for more than a million dollars in exchange for departmental email addresses that it was legally required to hand over nearly free of charge.
The notoriously surly employees of the DoL asked AP to cough up $1.03 million when the media outlet requested the email addresses of political appointees assigned there. The department claimed that in order to produce the data it would have to retrieve 2,236 computer backup tapes from archives and have 50 employees go through the records.
Under DoL’s own FoIA rules the department isn’t allowed to charge media outlets for any of its expenses except for photocopies beyond an initial 100 pages. Under pressure, the department later backed down, claiming the demand was a mistake, and handed over the email addresses to the news-gathering organization.
“The Department of Labor was holding the public ransom for public records,” Horner said. “They’re not even trying to demonstrate an exemption; they’re just running a fee barrier,” he said. Horner added that in his experience FoIA fees applying to left-leaning green groups tend to be waived, but conservative groups’ FoIA fees rarely are.
This isn’t AP’s first run-in with the Obama administration. The world’s largest news-gathering organization has already been targeted by Obama officials for reporting news the administration didn’t want reported.
In a frontal assault on the First Amendment, the Department of Justice secretly procured two months’ worth of telephone logs for journalists at AP, reportedly for a national security-related investigation. The Obama administration seized the records which covered 20-plus telephone lines used by AP in April and May of last year.
These fresh scandals come on the heels of another damaging controversy last year involving then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, a hardcore radical whose appointment sent leftists into spams of ecstasy. Using federal Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests and litigation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute discovered that Jackson conducted government business using an email account registered under a fake name, “Richard Windsor.” Obviously Jackson did it to avoid public disclosure laws.
The fact that more than three months after the fact most federal agencies have refused to comply with AP’s FoIA requests for political appointees’ email addresses speaks volumes. Responses are generally required within 20 to 30 days.
Ten federal agencies have failed to comply with AP’s demand under FoIA for the email addresses of Obama political appointees. They are the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Veterans Affairs, Justice, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Transportation, and Commerce.
President Obama himself set the anti-transparency tone for his administration from the very beginning, according to Horner.
Despite his public statements in favor of open government, Obama “exempted” his personal Blackberry from public disclosure laws. This was an overreach, said Horner. Obama could have legitimately set aside emails of a personal nature to prevent them from being accessed under FoIA but he chose not to pursue that route, he said.
“And they have plenty of tricks,” Horner said.
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative reporter and the author of the recently published book, "Subversion Inc.: How Obama's ACORN Red Shirts Are Still Terrorizing and Ripping Off American Taxpayers."