Yet another Clintonite has been wheeled out of the political morgue to serve in the Obama administration. Carol Browner, a neon-green radical who headed the Environmental Protection Agency from 1993-2000, is widely rumored to be the president-elect's choice for "energy czar." But an ethical cloud still hangs over Browner's EPA legacy. It doesn't take a team of Ivy League lawyers to figure out that this is one more headache the Hope and Change crew doesn't need.
In the spirit of reaching across the aisle, let me dust off the cobwebs and help out all the smarty-pants vetters on the Obama team with a little background on Browner's stained past:
On her last day in office, nearly eight years ago, Browner oversaw the destruction of agency computer files in brazen violation of a federal judge's order requiring the agency to preserve its records. This from a public official who bragged about her tenure: "One of the things I'm the proudest of at EPA is the work we've done to expand the public's right to know."
Asked to explain her track-covering actions, the savvy career lawyer played dumb. Figuratively batting her eyelashes, Browner claimed she had no clue about a court injunction signed by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth on the same day she commanded an underling to wipe her hard drives clean. Golly gee willikers, how could that have slipped by?
According to testimony in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed against EPA by Landmark Legal Foundation, a Virginia-based conservative legal watchdog group, Browner commanded a computer technician on Jan. 19, 2001: "I would like my files deleted. I want you to delete my files."
Not coincidentally, Landmark Legal Foundation had been pressing Browner to fully and publicly disclose the names of any special interest groups that may have influenced her wave of last-minute regulatory actions. Two days before she told her technician to purge all her records, EPA had gone to court to file a motion opposing the federal court injunction protecting those government documents.
Plausible deniability? Not bloody likely.
Incredibly, Browner asserted that there was no work-related material on her work computer. She explained she was merely cleaning the hard drive of computer games she had downloaded for her son, and that she wanted to expunge the hard drive as a "courtesy" to the incoming Bush administration. How thoughtful.
Later, her agency admitted that three other top EPA officials had their computers erased despite the federal court order and ongoing FOIA case -- the record is silent on whether Browner's son was playing games on their desktops, too. A further belated admission revealed that the agency had failed to search Browner's office for public documents as required by Landmark's public disclosure lawsuit.
Not only were the top officials' hard drives cleared and reformatted, but e-mail backup tapes were erased and reused in violation of records preservation practices.
After a two-year legal battle, Lamberth finally held the EPA in contempt of court for the systemic file destruction -- actions Lamberth lambasted as "contumacious conduct" (obstinate resistance to authority). The agency was also forced to pay all of Landmark Legal Foundation's court-related fees. As is typical in Washington, Browner weaseled out of any serious repercussions. Lamberth inexplicably decided that slapping the agency as a whole with contempt -- rather than any individual -- would deter future cover-ups.
Is this a gamble the Obama administration wants to take? Browner has crossed the line and violated public trust before in her capacity as eco-chief. Early in her first term as EPA head, a congressional subcommittee caught her using taxpayer funds to create and send out illegal lobbying material to over 100 grassroots environmental lobbying organizations. She exploited her office to orchestrate a political campaign by left-wing groups, who turned around and attacked Republican lawmakers for supporting regulatory reform.
These are the very same groups -- anti-business, anti-sound science, pro-eco-hysteria -- that Browner would be working arm in arm with as Obama's "energy czar." This is regression we can't afford.
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