A new report from Republicans on the House Committee on Energy and Commerces reveals that Obama administration officials used personal email and met with lobbyists at a coffee shop across the street from the White House to avoid disclosure rules.
As reported by Politico, the report shows several examples of White House officials communicating with officials in the health care industry from private email addresses rather than their official government accounts.
The catch: it appears the only reason Republicans knew about at least one set of the emails is because a White House official forwarded private emails to his official government account to comply with transparency rules. (Update: other private emails apparently came from sources other than the White House.)
As had been previously reported, White House aides also set up meetings with registered lobbyists at a Caribou Coffee across the street from the White House stocked with emails sent from private addresses and meetings scheduled away from the building to avoid appearing on the White House visitors log.
Jeff Smith, a senior adviser to the director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, emailed one GPS industry executive encouraging him to meet him at the coffeeshop because of strict security rules at the White House.
“[P]lus you’d appear on an official WH Visitor List which is maybe not want [sic] you want at this stage …” he wrote in an email last May.
White House spokesman Jay Carney ducked a question about whether White House staffers conduct meetings outside of the White House to avoid disclosure rules during a press gaggle on Wednesday.
Late update: White House spokesman Eric Schultz responds:
Republicans stunningly conceded this is purely political. The very House Republicans pursuing this have acknowledged it is a nakedly political, taxpayer-funded crusade to hurt the President’s re-election campaign. The White House is committed to compliance with the Presidential Records Act. All emails on the White House email system are archived; access to personal email and social networks from the White House network is blocked; and staff is instructed to use official accounts for official communications. Of course, it shouldn’t be surprising that when people have pre-existing professional or personal relationships with White House staff, they may periodically use personal email accounts and receive into them emails they must then preserve for official records. While on the White House staff, Mr. Messina occasionally received and sent email on a long standing personal account. When some of those emails contained information relating to official communications, he took steps to preserve such emails by forwarding them to his White House email account, or copying his White House email account as a recipient. The steps taken by Mr. Messina demonstrate good faith efforts to comply with the Presidential Records Act.