Former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson is unapologetic about using an alias email account that was hidden from the public while serving in the Obama administration.
Jackson maintained that she did not deviate from standard agency practice and tried to follow federal law even when using her alias account.
“The principle reason I wanted to come here today is to make it perfectly clear that it was my practice to ensure that any official business conducted by me or through my email accounts was appropriately captured for record keeping purposes,” Jackson said in her prepared testimony before the House Oversight Committee.
Republicans have argued that Jackson’s alias account violated federal law because she created a whole new identity.
“EPA’s policy requires email records to include transmission data that identifies the sender and the recipient(s). … However, these essential elements are clearly missing on emails sent and received by ‘Richard Windsor,’ since Windsor is fictitious,” reads a report by Senate Republicans. “In addition to violating internal records policy, Jackson’s alias account took on an identity separate from the Administrator herself.”
Republicans also argue that the EPA has not subjected Jackson’s alias account to federal records laws.
Democrats rushed to Jackson’s defense. Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings said that there is no federal law barring federal officials from using private email accounts if they properly keep the records.
“To be clear, no federal law prohibits the use of personal email for official business so long as those emails are properly preserved — very important,” Cummings said on Tuesday.
“Mr. Cummings indicates here that he has no understanding of the law, and as ranking member should not make such pronouncements on the law unless and until he does,” said Chris Horner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, contesting Cummings’ claim.
According to the EPA, employees should not “use any outside e-mail system to conduct official Agency business,” except during an emergency.
Furthermore, the agency states that “if the e-mail system uses codes, or aliases to identify senders or recipients, a record of their real names is kept for as long as any record containing only the codes or aliases. For example, if you are communicating with someone via the Internet (e.g., a grantee or researcher), and their e-mail address does not indicate who they are (e.g., the address is JerryR@…) then a record must be kept of who they are. This might be done simply by always including their full name in the body of the message.”
“He wants to rewrite the law to say that unless someone can prove that [even if] Lisa Jackson deleted some emails from her Verizon account or AT&T Blackberry account. … She did nothing wrong,” Horner added. “That’s not even nonsense. It indicates a desire to make lawbreaking by certain people just go away.”
Other current and former Obama administration officials were present at the hearing, including Jonathan Silver, who headed up the Energy Department’s loan programs office before resigning after Solyndra went bankrupt.
Lawmakers paid special attention to Jackson, whose alias email account under the name “Richard Windsor” ignited congressional investigations into the Obama administration’s record-keeping practices and possible efforts to subvert public oversight.
“Ultimately, the purpose of using secret emails, personal emails, applying excessive redactions to documents released via FOIA, and erecting other barriers to transparency is to avoid scrutiny and accountability,” Senate Republican investigation reported. “While in some instances the Agency has begrudgingly admitted their mistakes, the culture of secrecy runs deep, and it will take the proactive intervention of EPA’s new leadership to right the ship and require the transparency the President promised the American people.”
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