The Washington Post reports on an — at best — highly misleading letter the Justice Department recently sent in response to an April 10 subpoena from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The committee, chaired by Representative Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), is investigating a quid pro quo deal engineered by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, President Obama’s labor-secretary nominee (his Senate committee confirmation vote was postponed last Thursday until May 16). Under the deal, the City of St. Paul, Minn., agreed to drop a Supreme Court case in exchange for the Justice Department dropping a $200 million claim against the city under the False Claims Act. DOJ wasn’t even a party in the Supreme Court case but Perez was afraid the court would throw out the “disparate impact” legal theory Perez has been using to extract large settlements from the financial industry.
During the course of its investigation, the committee asked Perez, under oath, if he had ever used his personal e-mail account to conduct government business, including for this questionable deal. Perez claimed he “could not recall” — although Justice subsequently admitted that he had sent more than 1,200 e-mails on Civil Rights Division business.
Principal deputy assistant attorney general for legislative affairs Peter J. Kadzik admitted that Perez’s use of his private e-mail account violated the Federal Records Act. But the new letter from Justice to Issa attempts to excuse the violation by claiming that Perez used his personal e-mail account “to allow him to review or edit documents after normal working hours.”
Nonsense. I worked in the Civil Rights Division as a counsel to the assistant attorney general. All of us were cautioned not to use our private, nonsecure home computers and e-mail accounts to conduct Justice Department business. Moreover, Justice provided us with secure Blackberries to read our work e-mails when we were not in the office.
My former colleague Christian Adams points out that we were enabled to log into a secure Justice Department server from outside of the office using high-security protocols. This ensured that we could read our e-mails and Justice Department documents at home or when travelling.
In the four years I worked at the Division, I never had any need to conduct Justice Department business through a personal e-mail account. And if I had done so, I would have been disciplined.
As head of the Civil Rights Division, Perez most certainly had the same type of equipment and tools, completely obviating the need to use a personal e-mail account “to review or edit documents after normal working hours.” A far more plausible reason for using a personal e-mail account to conduct official business is to avoid having to produce e-mails in response to Freedom of Information Act requests and congressional subpoenas or having those e-mails become part of the official Justice Department files.