The Associated Press reported Tuesday that some Obama administration officials utilize non-publicly listed e-mail addresses in addition to their publicly listed ones. But a ThinkProgress Freedom of Information Act request revealed that this common practice was also utilized by the George W. Bush administration and in no way shields those accounts from public records laws.
Some administration critics, including Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), have tried to make political hay over former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s use of a secondary e-mail address which bore the name “Richard Windsor.” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) told Fox and Friends that the use of “secret” secondary e-mails by administration officials could violate public records law, as investigators might not be able to subpoena accounts they did not know about.
The EPA released to ThinkProgress a list of E-mail addresses used by the four people who served as Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency during the Bush administration. Each had a public address (using the typical agency format of email@example.com) and a private one:
- Christine Todd Whitman: firstname.lastname@example.org, Whitman.Christine@epa.gov
- Marianne Lamont Horinko: email@example.com, Horinko.Marianne@epa.gov
- Michael Leavitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, Leavitt.Michael@epa.gov
- Stephen L. Johnson: email@example.com, Johnson.StephenL@epa.gov
The AP story gives the impression that this is unprecedented, making no mention of the use of the multiple addresses by previous administrations.
U.S. Senators and Representatives also typically have non-published e-mail addresses, though Congress exempted itself from Freedom of Information laws. It seems obvious that political figures of both parties would need an unlisted e-mail address that cannot be easily guessed for communications with advisers and colleagues — just as cabinet secretaries private cell phone numbers would not be publicly available, though their main office number would be.
Despite Alexander’s concern, the release of this information shows that both the public and private email addresses are public record and that any legitimate FOIA request or subpoena for records would include those sent to and from both addresses.