The Latest Ploy to Avoid Federal and Presidential Records Act, FOIA

As if the AP and the Administration weren’t already enjoying a contentious relationship, today it details the Administration’s use of second, secret emails.

Some of President Barack Obama’s political appointees, including the secretary for Health and Human Services, are using secret government email accounts they say are necessary to prevent their inboxes from being overwhelmed with unwanted messages, according to a review by The Associated Press.

The scope of using the secret accounts across government remains a mystery: Most U.S. agencies have failed to turn over lists of political appointees’ email addresses, which the AP sought under the Freedom of Information Act more than three months ago. The Labor Department initially asked the AP to pay more than $1 million for its email addresses.


Google can’t find any reference on the Internet to the secret address for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Congressional oversight committees told the AP they were unfamiliar with the non-public government addresses identified so far by the AP.

Ten agencies have not yet turned over lists of email addresses, including the Environmental Protection Agency; the Pentagon; and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Treasury, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security, Commerce and Agriculture. All have said they are working on a response to the AP.

Now, the Administration claims people are doing this just to cut down on clutter in their email boxes. But thus far, it appears that the second emails aren’t being turned over under FOIAs or, if they are, aren’t being identified as belonging to the principal.

And so we move into another chapter of the Executive Branch hiding or deleting emails to avoid transparency, which of course goes back to Poppy Bush’s efforts to hide PROFS notes as part of the Iran-Contra coverup. The National Security Archive’s timeline, of course, misses the several efforts under the Bush Administration to either delete massive amounts of emails, particularly those from sensitive days of the CIA Leak Investigation, and the political staff’s use of RNC email addresses to take emails entirely out of Presidential Records Act retention.

This is getting tiresome: we’re going on 5 presidential administrations now that have played games with emails, a tedious series of efforts to avoid transparency.

Maybe it’s time for Congress to put some real teeth onto laws requiring the President to retain such records?

11 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    I thought we already had rules and regulations about this kind of crap?

    It makes me want to add an amendment:
    Any law, regulation, or rule intended to apply to the general public shall also apply to all elected and appointed officials. No exemptions shall be made for any reason or purpose whatsoever.

  2. TarheelDem says:

    The default use of Copy All comes back to bite.

    I am very amused by this: “Maybe it’s time for Congress to put some real teeth onto laws requiring the President to retain such records?” Congress, which is now touting robo-calls as “Town Meetings”. The Congress that is wanting suppression of leaks and is completely happy with the Presidential kill list. That Congress?

    Of course, they are not going to give out the secret e-mail addresses and let those get inundated with e-mail traffic. They will anyway over time as more people get read into the secret email address.

    The appropriate solution would be to repurpose that NSA facility in Utah to capture all government transactions on behalf of NARA with the expectation that it would all become available to to historians based on a known schedule. And available for subpoena. But that’s under regular democratic governance, which we left a while ago.

    Adding constitutional amendments and laws does no good if the political culture is one of impunity.

  3. Phil Perspective says:

    Maybe it’s time for Congress to put some real teeth onto laws requiring the President to retain such records?

    And ponies for all!! Okay, that was harsh. It’s just this stuff is expected under the GOP/DLC model of governance.

  4. lefty665 says:

    @TarheelDem: “repurpose that NSA facility in Utah to capture all government transactions” Any particular reason to think they don’t have them all already? Collection ain’t the issue, access is:)

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to see all the emails, personal financial transactions, web surfing & searches, phone conversations, tweets, IMs, geo locations, room bugs from his phones… for Holder during the time he had authorized the Rosen intercepts and the AP crap?

    Hoover would still be in office if he’d had personal files like that on pols. Hummm, NSA seems to be getting all the budget money it wants these days. Just a coincidence I’m sure, and all for our own good.

  5. GulfCoastPirate says:

    Why does someone who works for the government still use email these days? I think I’d train my own flock of carrier pigeons.

  6. Ben Franklin says:

    @P J Evans:

    “I thought we already had rules and regulations about this kind of crap?”

    Sarbanes/Oxley has no Federal application? There is a cottage industry for Corporations required to store emails, just in case the gummint needs to see. Goose/Gander?

  7. P J Evans says:

    @Ben Franklin:
    Something like that. (At work we had an annual on-line class on record-keeping: what a record is 9for legal purposes), and where to find the information on how long we had to keep it. (Fortunately I was in a group where our actual work product was about the only stuff counted as a record.)

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The usual way to prevent one’s business e-mail box from being “overwhelmed” with mail is to read one’s mail and to answer it. Simply adding one or more other e-mail boxes ignores the problem of getting one’s work done. It’s taking the ten pounds of manure that won’t fit into the five-pound bag and buying and putting it into two or three more five-pound bags. All you get is more manure.

    That assumes, of course, one is witless enough to take the stated explanation as the true rationale for using alternate e-mails that, by design or “oversight”, fail to get logged as presidential records. The much more likely rationale is the same way Karl Rove used: he didn’t want his friends or enemies to know what he was saying, to whom, and for what.

    As EW says, the response here is crap, a two-fingered salute to open government and the citizens’ right to know what their government representatives, public employees all, are doing on on the public’s dime.

    Meanwhile, US court(s) are saying the government is entitled to all metadata on every Verizon phone call (and presumably every other carrier’s calls) just for the asking. So much for the once and future Fourth Amendment in the hands of Mr. Obama.

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