Waxman joins critics of White House transparency on personal e-mails

posted at 2:01 pm on August 3, 2012 by Mary Katharine Ham

Rep. Henry Waxman became the first Democrat to criticize the White House for its lack of transparency Thursday in the wake of a House committee report that revealed high-ranking officials conducting meetings outside the White House and on personal e-mail accounts to avoid disclosure. It’s a violation of Obama’s campaign promises, House Republicans said, and may be a violation of the Presidential Records Act, which requires all such correspondence be preserved.

Waxman, who criticized the Bush administration for the same thing during an investigation of the attorney general firings, lightly grazed the administration with this statement:

“The Presidential Records Act was enacted to ensure that White House records are preserved for history and are owned by the American people,” Waxman said. “Everyone who is covered by the law should follow it, regardless of which party controls the White House.”

The Hill reports, “[m]any Democrats and interest groups that had been critical of the Bush administration’s transparency were unwilling to comment.” Waxman is mentioned in the e-mails as a player in the seedy wrangling over PhRMA’s final deal in Obamacare, which may be why he felt impelled to comment.

This is not the first time the White House’s e-mails on PhRMA have revealed its duplicity or the first time officials have been caught avoiding the White House in favor of Caribou coffee shop to avoid the White House visitor logs. But this new batch reinforces that White House officials made specific plans to meet off-site to avoid disclosure and sometimes used personal e-mails to do so. The White House claims e-mails from personal addresses were copied or forwarded to White House e-mail addresses for preservation.

But that contradicts White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s assertion, at a June 2011 briefing:

Q Thanks, Jay. Two topics, but I’d like to stay with Google to start with. What is the U.S. government’s policy towards personnel having private Gmail accounts?

MR. CARNEY: Well, the U.S. government policy — certainly, the administration policy that is effective here is that we — all of our work is conducted on work email accounts; that’s part of the Presidential Records Act. So the issue in terms of, as I mentioned, our work accounts, we have no evidence to suggest that any of those accounts were accessed or compromised.

E-mails released in the House Energy and Commerce Committee report Tuesday shed light on machinations of the White House in the dispute between connected wireless company Lightsquared and the GPS community over possible interference concerns. Jeff Smith of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and Jim Kirkland, Vice President and General Counsel of Trimble Navigation had this exchange:

“Jim – coffee at Caribou Coffee – across the corner from the WH – would work at 11:30 a.m. on Friday…plus getting you through the new WH security rules these days almost takes an act of Congress almost (and you know how well that’s going these days) plus you’d appear on an official WH Visitor List which is maybe not want [sic] you want at this stage …”

Smith instructed Trimble to contact him on his personal e-mail account: “On this or any other related subject or policy matter, please continue to communicate with me only on my personal email,” he wrote.

Jim Messina, former White House deputy chief of staff and now Obama campaign director, used his personal e-mail account on several occasions to make the White House’s backroom deal with PhRMA on Obamacare. How hopenchangey: (pdf)

Five days prior to passage of the PPACA, Messina used his personal email to discuss the White House’s ongoing strategy to obtain the necessary appropriations to fund the deal. He wrote to PhRMA lobbyist Jeffrey Forbes:

“I will roll pelosi to get the 4 billion…As you may have heard I am literally rolling over the house. But there just isn’t 8-10 billion for something they said 2-3 for last night.”

And, there was much rejoicing:

Messina summed up the effectiveness of PhRMA’s lobbying efforts when he wrote to PhRMA lobbyists Bryant Hall, five days prior to passage of the PPACA, using his personal email, “I hope you appreciate when the wh stepped in and said ‘this is fair. let’s get this done.’ Let’s all join hands and pray on cbo!”

And:

Messina also used his personal email account to discuss White House support for the deal. For example, on June 24, 2009, Forbes wrote to Messina’s personal account to ask that the White House publicly confirm its backing of the deal. Referencing an upcoming meeting of White House Office of Health Reform (OHR) Director Nancy-Ann DeParle, Forbes wrote, “we need to make sure she owns this deal tomorrow, any hesitancy would be bad…she is speaking to a totally friendly audience so it wont be a sell job, they just need to see ownership— make any sense?” Messina responded on his personal email account, “Yep.”

On July 8, 2009, after being informed of a reporter’s inquiry into whether the White House would be bound by its deal with PhRMA, Forbes contacted Messina on his personal account and asked, “any way you can shut this down?” Messina replied from his personal account,”Yes, send the reporter to me[.]” Later, Messina promised from his personal email: “We are issuing ‘it’s our deal.’ [s]tatement.”

The source for the reporter’s story? Rep. Henry Waxman, whose assertion was promptly rebuffed by the White House.

The RNC hit Obama with this web ad:


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