Lisa Jackson Emails: Transparency Crisis or Political Nothingburger?

September 11, 2013

Is the Republican ballyhoo over "secondary" email addresses used by officials at US EPA and other agencies truly a legitimate issue of "transparency"? Or is it a manufactured scandal intended to inflict political damage on the opposing party?

A hearing September 10, 2013, before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform featured former EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and other Obama administration officials in a theatrical stare-down that garnered buckets of news media coverage.

Jackson, who received roughly one million emails per year while at EPA, said it had long been common practice for high-profile federal officials to use alternate email addresses for important communications in order to get business done. She defended the practice as standard operating procedure and not intended to hide or deceive.

Republicans on the Senate Environment Committee had been loudly complaining about the practice since before Jackson left EPA in February 2013. They issued a report on the matter and raked Jackson over the coals. Senate Environment Committee Republicans highlighted the issue during the time when they were trying to block confirmation of Gina McCarthy to replace Jackson as EPA administrator. Panel Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) noted that the practice of using secondary emails went back through several administrations — of both parties.

House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has acquired a reputation for using his investigative panel as a partisan street-fighter, as he has spotlighted various issues embarrassing to the Obama administration — such as the Benghazi attack and IRS treatment of nonprofits. But his credibility has suffered with non-Republicans as these scandals have been revealed as poorly grounded.

After Issa called White House Press Secretary Jay Carney a "paid liar" in June 2013, former White House adviser David Plouffe mocked him as "Mr. Grand Theft Auto." That was a reference to Issa's own history of suspected criminal offenses ranging from auto theft to arson and gun violations.