Last year, David Usborne of The Independent said of the Trump administration, “This may, in fact, be the most transparent White House ever – and the most transparent President.” A few days ago, Reuters gave Trump kudos for “bringing television cameras into normally private White House talks with lawmakers that feature sharp debates and, seemingly, policy-making on the fly.”
Trump’s transparency is not universally lauded, and there are certainly some things that earn legitimate criticism, but, while the results may vary, Trump’s approach to transparency is a welcome change from the overwhelming secrecy that plagued the Obama administration. This was after Obama promised transparency. “This is the most transparent administration in history,” Obama said back in 2013.
Yeah, well, not really.
Hillary Clinton’s private email scandal alone would be enough to prove that transparency simply wasn’t a core value of the Obama administration. But, Hillary’s trouble with her email is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Obama administration officials looking to skirt federal disclosure laws.
This issue first became a big problem for the Obama administration when his former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson was caught using a secret email account under the alias of Richard Windsor to conduct official business. Richard Windsor, despite being a fictional EPA official, earned training certificates; he was even recognized, ironically, as a “scholar of ethical behavior.” Jackson ultimately resigned due to the scandal, but the Obama administration’s troubles with phony email aliases persisted, without any accountability.
And it wasn’t just Hillary Clinton and Lisa Jackson having all the secret email fun. Using secret accounts was, in fact, standard operating procedure. I’ve compiled a list of five other high-level Obama administration officials who were using secret accounts that you might not know about.
5. Kathleen Sebelius
We all knew that negotiations over Obamacare were conducted behind closed doors, but did you also know that Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s Health and Human Services secretary, used three different email accounts, one of which the department tried to keep secret. The email addresses were discovered during an Associated Press investigation in the wake of the EPA email scandal. That’s not to say the Obama administration didn’t fight hard to keep these emails under wraps. According to the AP, Obama’s Labor Department tried to charge them $1 million for the email addresses! The AP’s investigation revealed that secret and private emails were a common practice in the Obama administration and experts say the practice significantly complicates the process of disclosure for lawsuits and investigations—making full transparency very difficult to achieve.
And Sebelius is certainly one who would want to thwart federal disclosure requirements. Her tenure as HHS secretary was controversial from the start. From tax troubles that cast a dark cloud over her nomination, to a major violation of the Hatch Act, to overseeing the implementation of Obamacare, including the disastrous rollout, she spent her entire term embroiled in embarrassing scandals. She also got into some trouble for soliciting support and money from companies for Obamacare—possibly to circumvent congressional spending limits.
4. Lois Lerner, alias Toby Miles
Few can forget the IRS Scandal that exploded in 2013, but most probably don’t remember that Lois Lerner, the director of the exempt organizations unit at the IRS, used a separate private email account while handling documents connected to the scandal involving discrimination against conservative and Tea Party groups. This secret email account was revealed a whopping two years after the scandal first broke. Lerner’s secret alias was named Toby Miles, a combination of her dog’s and her husband’s names. According to Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton, the Obama Justice Department and the IRS were aware of this private account, but chose not to disclose it. Lerner herself warned IRS staffers not to reveal “too much information” to Congress. Transparency, indeed!
3. Eric Holder, alias Henry Yearwood, David Kendricks, and Lew Alcindor
Eric Holder was Obama’s first attorney general, but Obama actually got four for the price of one since Holder used three separate aliases. To conduct business on the QT, Holder used the aliases “Henry Yearwood,” “David Kendricks,” and “Lew Alcindor” — the latter alias being the birth name of basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Holder used that identity for sending and receiving emails related to the Senate investigation into the CIA spying on U.S. senators tasked with monitoring the CIA, making the basketball legend an ideal candidate to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Of course, the Obama administration claimed everything was above board, that aliases were used for screening purposes. So, why did it take years of FOIA lawsuits to get these emails?
2. Loretta Lynch, alias Elizabeth Carlisle
In February 2016, the Department of Justice confirmed that Attorney General Loretta Lynch was using an email alias. It took more than a year, multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and a new administration to reveal the alias as “Elizabeth Carlisle.”
What was the fake identity used for? The fake persona hid emails regarding the Clinton email investigation. According to Chuck Ross at The Daily Caller, “Lynch corresponded with DOJ press officials to hammer out talking points in response to” media inquiries about her infamous meeting with Bill Clinton on the tarmac at a Phoenix airport in 2016 while Hillary was under investigation—shortly before then FBI Director James Comey declared the FBI would not recommend charges against Hillary for mishandling classified information.
1. Barack Obama, alias unknown
You read that correctly. Barack Obama himself was using a secret email account and alias to communicate. We know this because it was revealed during the Hillary Clinton email investigation, just over a month before the 2016 election. Hillary’s top aide Huma Abedin had been interviewed by the FBI, and was shown email exchanges between Hillary and an unknown sender. Upon learning that the pseudonymous sender was believed to be Barack Obama, Abedin was floored: “How is this not classified?” Naturally, the State Department refused to make these emails public, citing “presidential communications privilege.”
According to Andrew McCarthy of National Review, this is why Hillary Clinton was never at risk of being indicted. Her repeated communication with Obama on her private and unsecure email made Obama guilty of a federal crime. “If Clinton had been charged, Obama’s culpable involvement would have been patent. In any prosecution of Clinton, the Clinton–Obama emails would have been in the spotlight,” McCarthy explained.
So, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying that Trump’s transparency record so far is better than his predecessor’s. I know that’s a pretty low bar, but, after eight years unprecedented secrecy from Obama, almost anything looks like an improvement.