Senator Extends Flap Over Ash Carter Personal Email Use
Grassley not satisfied with Pentagon briefing and new internal records guidance.
The Defense Department’s efforts to answer lawmakers’ questions about Secretary Ash Carter’s admitted use of personal email for some official business last year have come up short, a Republican senator said on Thursday.
Having received a response from the Pentagon to a list of queries he sent in February and seen the actual emails the department released in March, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, issued a statement vowing to continue his probe and linking Carter’s conduct to related problems elsewhere in the Obama administration.
“The Defense Department is downplaying Secretary Carter’s use of personal devices for official business, but I have concerns,” Grassley said. “Some emails contain information subject to the trade secrets and commercial or financial information exemption under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as several law enforcement-related redactions. Many emails appear to contain subject matter that extends beyond mere routine administrative work. That means there was at least some sensitive information on his email. These practices have FOIA and government security implications. I’m continuing to look at the Defense Department’s response and considering any next steps.”
In an April 22 reply on behalf of Carter, Assistant Defense Secretary for Legislative Affairs Stephen Hedger reiterated past explanations that Carter had acknowledged that his use of personal email was a mistake, but that no classified information was involved.
“In response to congressional inquiries and media requests, a data call was undertaken for all work-related emails involving his personal account since becoming secretary,” the letter said. “The results of this search were reviews as they would generally be if requested under” FOIA, and the review “was done by career professionals in DoD’s Executive Secretary, Washington Headquarters Services and Office of General Counsel,” also as would occur under FOIA.
On March 23, Pentagon employees “provided a briefing to your committee staff regarding the department’s policies and procedure for preserving federal records, as well as email policy,” the letter stated. “Additionally, we provided the committee copies of department policies on email use and federal record keeping.”
Finally, the letter said, on April 19, Defense Chief Information Officer Terry Halverson issued a departmentwide memo “reminding employees of their responsibilities with respect to the use of nonofficial electronic messaging account and records management.”
But Grassley was unmoved. “There are now at least three high profile examples of top Obama administration officials treating electronic security and records retention too casually – at the Internal Revenue Service, the State Department, and the Defense Department,” he said. “The fulfillment of public information requests is compromised when federal record-keeping is compromised. Cyber-security is compromised when personal devices are used for official business. Government officials need to take care to meet their legal and common sense obligations here.”