The Most Transparent Administration… Oh, Wait…
It’s “Deja-vu all over again.”
Yogi Berra’s famous quip well describes the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s private email account. It’s no surprise she would be under such scrutiny, given that she is the leading contender for the Democratic nomination for President in 2016. And, let’s be honest, among some conservatives she is simply despised (though some of those same critics, when pushed, probably wish she’d beaten a young inexperienced Senator from Illinois in 2008). But this time, her critics aren’t just on the Right.
Many have different concerns about the email fiasco. Some believe she may have flouted federal record laws. Others believe this is where they can find the “smoking gun” tying her to the Benghazi debacle. Still others just enjoy seeing egg on her face. But the scandal is actually much simpler and more insidious than that.
The truth is, the American people have lost all patience with the Obama administration’s façade, excuses, and prevarications about transparency. Hillary Clinton may or may not have violated certain rules and ethical expectations as Secretary of State. We will see. But the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency have been doing the same thing for years. That much we do know.
The former Secretary of State’s clumsy handling of the email kerfuffle have turned eye-rolling quips at cocktail receptions into abject furor over her arrogance and hubris. To which I say, “About time.” Because it’s not just about her, or even the president. It’s about the way that same attitude pervades this administration’s cabinet secretaries and senior officials. As in: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. Period.”
In 2012, while conducting research for his book, The Liberal War on Transparency, Competitive Enterprise Institute Fellow Christopher Horner discovered that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had been using a private email account—under the pseudonym “Richard Windsor”—for correspondence with liberal environmental activitsts and advocacy organizations. Within the year, following months of agency stonewalling, Congressional hearings, and lawsuits, Jackson stepped down to spend time with her family—the standard reason given by all disgraced government officials.
Current EPA administrator Gina McCarthy appears more technologically savvier than her predecessor. But she seems not more forthcoming. Text messages seem to be her preferred means for text communication. And we have seen her defend that private email correspondence in front of Congress. You’d think she would have learned by now—though to be fair, she’s been working in an environment where her colleagues feel above the law.
Then there’s the IRS scandal, with agency official Lois Lerner pleading the Fifth and claiming all of her emails—on a government server—that could contain evidence of targeting of conservative groups had simply disappeared. Remember that old joke, “How do you tell if a politician is lying?” Answer: “When his lips move” Now we need to update that with: “When her fingers tap.”
Even the government’s own watchdogs are weary of this charade. It’s only been seven months since 47 of the government’s 73 inspectors general sent a warning letter to Congress identifying instances where the Obama administration was stonewalling them. Specifically, they accused several major agencies of imposing “serious limitations on access to records.” They wrote:
Agency actions that limit, condition, or delay access thus have profoundly negative consequences for our work: they make us less effective, encourage other agencies to take similar actions in the future, and erode the morale of the dedicated professionals that make up our staffs.
I understand their frustration. Imagine having to need help from another branch of the government to do your job—and Congress at that.
I do find it deliciously ironic that we’re discussing all this during “Sunshine Week,” when government agencies, including the EPA and IRS, will issue reports about how open and fair they are. I wish they simply could be more honest and just opt out—at least I could respect them for being intellectual consistency. But, they won’t, and will continue the play-acting instead.
That’s why Hillary Clinton’s emails matter. Now the Associated Press has sued for access to her records. So, as we wait for their reports, as well as for email and text message queries to play out, I’m reminded of Ronald Reagan’s famous quip to another Democratic president, “There you go again.”