Former EPA Admin Lisa Jackson Hires Lawyer for Email Investigation

Jackson has used private email accounts in possible violation of FOIA law

Lisa Jackson / AP
August 21, 2013

Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson has hired a lawyer in the ongoing congressional investigation into her use of private and secret email addresses to conduct official business.

Jackson, who announced her resignation from the EPA in December amid a congressional probe, hired lawyer Barry Coburn from the D.C. firm Coburn & Greenbaum, according to a source.

Jackson now works for Apple as the tech giant’s top environmental officer.

When reached by phone, Coburn said he would call this reporter back "ASAP." As of press time, he has not.

The hire comes shortly after it was revealed that Jackson used her home email account to conduct official EPA business.

"P.S. Can you use my home email rather than this one when you need to contact me directly?" Jackson wrote to a lobbyist for Siemens, a multinational company.

The same week, a federal judge said the EPA may have intentionally skirted the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), the chair of the powerful House Oversight Committee, both vowed to continue investigating Jackson’s email practices.

"The committee has continued to uncover troubling evidence that administration officials have engaged in an intentional and systemic practice of violating federal transparency laws to communicate with lobbyists and other private interests using non-official or alias email accounts," Issa said in a statement. "This practice runs afoul of the president’s promise to run the most transparent administration in history and creates an undeniable impression that officials are engaging in inappropriate behavior."

Jackson’s email troubles began in November when Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, discovered that she used a secret EPA email address under the alias "Richard Windsor."

Subsequent FOIA disclosures from that account revealed several other EPA officials using private email addresses to conduct official business. One EPA regional administrator resigned amid a congressional probe into his use of home email.

In response to the investigations, the EPA inspector general announced it was auditing the agency’s FOIA compliance and record keeping. The EPA also announced it would retrain its more than 17,000 employees on record keeping.

The latter was part of a concession won by Sen. Vitter in return for releasing his hold on confirmation of new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Federal employees are discouraged from using private email to conduct government business except when unavoidable. If they do, they are required by federal records law to forward any emails to their official accounts for record keeping purposes.

The EPA said Jackson’s secret "Richard Windsor" account was common practice among high-level officials going back several administrations due to the large amount of emails that flood their public inboxes. However, transparency advocates worry such secret email addresses could be used to avoid FOIA disclosures.

An Associated Press investigation earlier this year found secret email addresses used by other top Obama administration officials, such as Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment for this article.