A former top State Department official who worked under Hillary Clinton told John Podesta that the use of private email accounts by Obama administration officials is widespread. “Btw you know as well as I every g*d d*mn cabinet officer and WH staff uses [their] gmail account!” Tom Nides, the former deputy secretary of state for management and resources, wrote to Clinton’s campaign chair in a March 2015 email released by WikiLeaks.
Nides advised Podesta on how the campaign should handle the Clinton email scandal. “For what it’s worth. There is only one thing that needs to be done on this email thing. (Which I am sure nobody wants to do). Get a state dept career lawyer to go through all the emails and pull the official ones. I know all the reasons not to do it but it’s going to happen so we should do it,” he wrote to Podesta.
Nides, who served in the State Department from 2011 to 2013 while Clinton was secretary of state, wrote to Podesta using his Gmail account, and suggested that he used one while working in the Obama administration.
Over the years, many other Obama officials have been caught using personal email accounts to shield public records from scrutiny. Government officials use private email accounts to conceal their shady, possibly illegal government practices from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Present or future investigations are stymied when government officials hide their work correspondence in a second inbox. The corrupt practice seems to have been encouraged during the Obama years.
Labor Sec. Tom Perez used a personal email account to leak information to the press while he worked at the Department of Justice, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack used a personal email account while serving as the governor of Iowa.
Ambassador Caroline Kennedy was cited for conducting government business on a personal email account in August of 2015, prompting an inspector general to criticize the risky practice.
“Such risks include data loss, hacking, phishing, and spoofing of email accounts, as well as inadequate protections for personally identifiable information,” the IG wrote in a report.
The recurring problem has plagued the State Department, the EPA, the IRS and other agencies, underscoring concerns that the Obama administration has been especially resistant to transparency despite the president’s inaugural pledge to make his the “most transparent administration in history.”
Lois Lerner, the former head of the Internal Revenue Service’s tax-exempt unit, is another one who benefited from the practice. Last year, the IRS revealed in court filings that Lerner had used a previously undisclosed personal account bearing the name “Toby Miles.”
Lerner had used yet another personal account listed as “Lois Home.” Her attorneys have provided some emails to the government from her private addresses.
The embattled former official faced allegations that she led her agency in targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny, but the congressional probe into her activity was stymied when thousands of her official emails were declared missing.
In January of 2013, Lisa Jackson, the controversial head of the EPA, resigned amid the “Richard Windsor” email scandal.
When the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market group, came up empty on its FOIA requests for Jackson’s e-mails relating to her anti-coal efforts, it was told by an EPA whistleblower that she was using “Richard Windsor” and other aliases to coordinate with outside anti-coal groups and engage in other activity she wouldn’t want to come to light. After CEI filed suit, the Justice Department last month reluctantly agreed to produce 12,000 “Richard Windsor” e-mails.
In 2015, another EPA official was caught using private email for government business. The EPA inspector general found at least five instances where Phil North, a biologist who colluded with anti-mine activists in Alaska, “used a personal, non-EPA email” to do government business with “a third party and failed to forward such emails into Agency systems.”
Amazingly enough, just as Lois Lerner’s hard drive conveniently crashed, so did North’s.
Only after Congress started investigating the Pebble scandal did the EPA inform lawmakers that Mr. North’s crash just happened to wipe out documents from the period in question.
When the Clinton email scandal broke in March of 2015, Obama tried to distance himself from the controversy, saying unconvincingly that he had only learned about Clinton’s private email set-up from news reports.
At the time, the White House wouldn’t say whether the president used a private e-mail address, citing security concerns. “We have made clear that part of the security precautions we take around that e-mail account is not talking about it much publicly,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said, according to reports.
FBI documents released last month revealed that the president himself used an undisclosed pseudonym to communicate with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her private email server.