January 16, 2013

New mysteries in EPA's Windsorgate scandal

Washington's transparency and environmental communites were abuzz yesterday awaiting release by the Environmental Protection Agency of the first 3,000 of an expected 12,000 "Richard Windsor" emails sent to and from outgoing Administrator Lisa Jackson.
After sorting through technical glitches that undermined the agency's first attempt to post the documents ordered released by a federal court, it became obvious that EPA had only made public about 2,100 emails and "Richard Windsor" - Jackson's admitted illegal non de plume on one of her government email accounts - was nowhere to be found.
What EPA released was a collection of emails to and from Jackson at what appears to be a government email account. Among the collection were daily news clippings, Washington Post daily news briefs, Google email alerts for Jackson, and assorted other mundane documents.
Christopher Horner, the Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow who first exposed Jackson's use of the fake name, released a statement late yesterday saying in effect that EPA was thumbing its nose at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Horner and CEI are the plaintiffs in the Freedom of Information Act suit they brought against EPA last year for refusing to turn over all Jackson emails that included the words "Richard Windsor" in connection with four regulatory issues then before the agency.
There is also a separate investigation of the "Richard Windsor" emails being conducted by EPA Inspector-General. That probe was requested by Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility (CREW), a Washington-based advocacy group.
Because EPA released thousands of emails that failed to satisfy the court's order, Horner said, "this response is deeply troubling and seems to have gravely compounded the unlawful activity we have exposed involving a false identity assumed for federal recordkeeping purposes."
Horner added that "it seems EPA simply decided it had to produce a lot of something. Desperate to produce nothing at the same time, it came up with this."
Earlier this year, Horner detailed the use of fake email names by Jackson and other federal officials in the White House and EPA in his book, The Liberal War Against Transparency."
But Horner pointed to an even more fundamental problem with the EPA release yesterday. In its cover letter, the agency claimed Jackson used only one government email account for official business, with no mention of the "Richard Windsor" account Jackson admitted in December to have used for "internal discussions" only.
"Staking out the position Jackson used only one secondary account signals the agency has gone bunker. Rather than search or produce from the Richard Windsor account, it is more likely the agency intends to in essence pretend it does not exist," Horner said. "Count as wasted that week EPA spent with all of the muttering to the contrary about its origin being a combination of her pet's name and the town in which she once lived."
In other words, said Horner, "EPA would rather fight than snitch. Instructively, in EPA's view, tempting Congress, the court and public opinion risks less fallout than revealing 'Richard Windsor's' correspondence."
Jackson's defenders will likely seek to debunk Horner's analysis, but it appears EPA has backed itself into a corner on two crucial issues. First, it will be fascinating to hear EPA's lawyers explain to the federal court how making public 2,100 emails that clearly aren't responsive to the judge's order nevertheless satisfies that order.
The judge said EPA had to make public the estimated 12,000 "Richard Windsor" emails and EPA agreed to do so in four releases, or tranches, of approximately 3,000 each. Yesterday's release was presented by EPA as the first of the four. It won't be a surprise if the judge thinks otherwise when EPA argues they did what they were supposed to do.
Second, having acknowledged previously that she used the "Richard Windsor" non de plume for "internal discussions" and that she got it from her dog, Jackson will likely now have to argue that none of those discussions were about official business, or make the case under the FOIA that they were about official business deliberations but therefore are exempted from disclosure.
Either way, Jackson will have to contradict the EPA lawyers' cover letter on yesterday's release claiming she used only one government account.
Which points to the fundamental question that makes Windsorgate, at least potentially, a dangerous scandal for President Obama - What will be found in those 12,000 emails that Jackson and EPA appear determined to conceal at all costs?

No comments:

Post a Comment