Judicial Watch said Wednesday it is suing in federal court to force disclosure of documents concerning use of private email accounts on government computers by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and more than two dozen other top officials in his agency.
Besides Johnson, deputy DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, chief of staff Christian Marrone and general counsel Stevan Bunnell were reportedly granted waivers to use private email accounts despite such practices being illegal.
Mayorkas was the subject of a DHS inspector general report that described his improper intervention to help EB-5 visa applicants with links to prominent Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
The non-profit government watchdog group filed a July 21, 2015, Freedom of Information Act request for copies of “all requests (in any form) submitted by senior DHS officials for waivers to use personal Web-based email accounts on government-owned computers,” and “copies of all waivers granted to senior DHS officials to use personal Web-based email accounts on government-owned computers.”
The department failed to respond to the Judicial Watch request by the FOIA law’s mandatory Sept. 2, 2015, deadline, so the watchdog filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Oct. 21, 2015.
“The waivers granted to Johnson and 28 other senior staffers were in direct violation of Homeland Security’s Sensitive Systems Policy Directive 4300A, promulgated on April 30, 2014,” Judicial Watch said.
The ban on use of private emails followed the unprecedented hack of U.S. Office of Personnel Management files containing information on millions of current and retired federal employees.
The ban, known as Directive 4300A, provides that use of “Internet Webmail (Gmail, Yahoo, AOL) or other per personal email accounts is not authorized over DHS furnished equipment or network connections.”
DHS Chief Information Officer Luke McCormack authorized the exceptions on a case-by-case basis, according to Bloomberg View.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been embroiled since March in a continuing scandal prompted by her use of a private email account and private server located in her New York home to conduct official business throughout her tenure as the chief U.S. diplomat.
Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson was found in 2012 to be using both her private email account and a government email account under the pseudonym “Richard Windsor” to conduct official business.
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