Barbara Boxer may not look much like a football player, but she has demonstrated the skill of an all-pro lineman when it comes to protecting Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
President Obama hailed McCarthy as a “straight shooter” in her introductory press conference, but a review conducted by Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, indicates she is anything but.
McCarthy participated in former Administrator Lisa Jackson’s use of an alias email account for communications with senior officials and executives of friendly outside groups and, evidence suggests, in her use of Instant Messaging accounts to avoid having these communications susceptible to being turned over as a result of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Horner discovered the alias email account during research for his book, “The Liberal War on Transparency.” He has since found out virtually all messages from McCarthy and almost all messages to her were either withheld, redacted or had the to and from lines removed so neither CEI nor any other group could determine the sender or recipients.
Just as a left tackle in football is determined to protect the quarterback’s blindside, Boxer was determined to avoid having the topic of transparency derail the confirmation of McCarthy. Email aliases are not at all uncommon, Boxer said. Former Administrator Christine Todd Whitman went by “towhit.” Stephen Johnson, the career EPA employee who replaced her, went by “tocarter.” Acting Administrator Marianne Horinko was “toduke” and Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock went by “tofu.”
“All of them have used it,” Boxer said after ticking off the list above. “I don’t think it’s anything nefarious.”
A secondary account has an address the administrator creates, beginning with “to,” which does not show but instead always will reveal the administrator’s name. I can call myself CajunWhoLovesLSU, but the “to” line will reveal that CajunWhoLovesLSU means the email goes to Brian McNicoll. What Lisa Jackson did was create a Lotus Notes account for a name she made up — Richard Windsor. When searches are conducted for emails in which she participated, if those searches don’t also search for records by “Richard Windsor,” none are found.
That’s a huge difference. That means people who seek records through FOIA requests for Browner, Whitman, Johnson, Horinko or Peacock would receive those emails. But unless requesters knew Jackson went by the fake name Richard Windsor, they would not know to request — and thus would not receive — those communications. Only through a tip from a senior career employee did CEI learn of this alias.
Boxer’s strategy is to get the Senate to move on from these accusations. What difference does this make? It’s not like the EPA has anything to hide.
Oh yeah? Then why did Jackson’s senior counsel resign the day her alias email account was revealed? Why did Area 8 Administrator Jim Martin resign when it was found he was using an alias email account as well? Why did the administrator herself resign even though she did not have — and still does not have — employment lined up for the future?
In December, a federal court ordered EPA to turn over to CEI 12,000 emails related to coal, air quality and related topics. It was to produce the emails in batches of 3,000 every four months, beginning January 15. The first month, EPA produced 2,100 emails. All were either Washington Post daily headlines, Google Alert searches for coverage of EPA or a compendium of blogs that mentioned the agency compiled by someone in the central office. The second batch, more than 1,000 short of the promised 3,000 per month, included some emails. But almost all the content in them was redacted. The third batch was no better.
In short, EPA has refused to produce emails that would shed any light on McCarthy’s thinking on coal, climate science, air and radiation policy — her designated area — or a carbon tax, all likely to come before her as administrator if she’s confirmed. The strategy is clear — hide all McCarthy’s communications until she clears this hurdle. Boxer’s willful attempt to explain away this obfuscation is one of the final steps toward accomplishing this.
No one claims Steven Johnson or Marianne Horinko or Christine Todd-Whitman is withholding records that relate to their duties atop the EPA. No one claims they conducted official business on IM accounts to avoid FOIA scrutiny. This suspicion falls only on Jackson, who resigned rather than face the music, and McCarthy, who seeks to replace her.
Boxer is blocking for her now because she realizes if McCarthy can gain this one first down and achieve confirmation, she can run out the clock on reasonable opposition to her policies. Only the Senate stands in the way.
Brian McNicoll is senior director of communications for the Competitive Enterprise Institute (cei.org), a free-market think tank in Washington, D.C.