Curiously, while e-mails obtained through a FOIA request by the left-leaning Center for Progressive Reform clearly identify one participant as Richard Windsor, the correspondent’s name is redacted from the messages turned over to Horner on Monday, making it impossible to discern whether the messages are from the Windsor account or yet another Jackson account. The individual is identified only as “Administrator,” purportedly out of a (newfound) need to “preserve the ongoing utility of the e-mail account and to clearly identify the records as being to or from” Jackson.
Though the EPA system shows only the name, not the address, of an e-mail’s sender and recipients, the EPA is refusing to disclose even that information, citing a FOIA exemption that allows the government to withhold information if its disclosure “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” “Is releasing the name Lisa Jackson really a violation of her privacy?” Horner asks. “Why is it not similarly a violation of the personal privacy of anyone else in government whose e-mails are released? And, if it isn’t, why then would the name Richard Windsor be protected? They’re giving stonewalling a bad name.”
Horner was tipped off to Jackson’s use of the “Richard Windsor” alias by two EPA insiders while he was researching his book The Liberal War on Transparency, and his disclosure sparked concern that her use of a false identity makes it extraordinarily difficult for the government to comply with FOIA requests and federal record-keeping laws.
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has already raised concerns about the very issues Horner is now confronting. While acknowledging that the adoption of non-public e-mail addresses is a relatively standard practice among government officials, then-chairman of the committee Ralph Hall and vice chairman James Sensenbrenner told Jackson in a letter last month, “your choice to use a false identity remains baffling” and raises concerns about “whether the EPA has adequately preserved these records and provided appropriate responses to requests for these records.” Non-public e-mail addresses are held in the names of their owners for the purposes of record keeping and congressional oversight; adopting a false identity poses obvious challenges to the people charged with these tasks. “We also question whether responses to records requests sufficiently connect the alias accounts to the real individual,” Hall and Sensenbrenner wrote.
For his part, Horner is not cowed. “As Ronald Reagan said, ‘I am paying for this microphone.’ Well, we’re paying for this government,” he says. “These records are all ours unless the government can meet the burden of proof that they are exempt from disclosure.”
— Eliana Johnson is media editor of National Review Online.