Attorneys for The New York Times and the Justice Department are due in federal court Tuesday as part of a lawsuit seeking to force the Pentagon to release full copies of more than a thousand pages of work-related emails Defense Secretary Ash Carter sent and received from his personal account.
The lawsuit, filed in May but not previously reported, is the latest wrinkle in the ongoing saga over the use of personal email by top government officials. It’s an issue that has dogged Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and led earlier this month to a stinging rebuke from the FBI for the former secretary of state — but no criminal charges.
Carter’s case has received little publicity in comparison to Clinton’s, but it also raises questions about the security procedures in place at the top rungs of the executive branch — and whether officials are attempting to use their personal email accounts to skirt the Freedom of Information Act, the press and the public’s main tool for forcing the release of government records short of the courts.
Carter, who became Pentagon chief in February 2015, acknowledged in December he conducted official business on his personal email account during his first few months in office, in violation of department rules. A spokesman for Carter, Peter Cook, told The Times at the time that the defense secretary had made “a mistake” but had since stopped using the personal account for government business.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the watchdog group Campaign for Accountability is calling for the Pentagon’s inspector general to investigate Carter’s use of personal email.
“The use of personal email accounts to conduct agency business has emerged as a growing problem, especially by agency heads such as Secretary Carter,” the group’s executive director, Anne Weismann, said in an April letter to the Pentagon IG. “When such use occurs at an agency like DoD that deals routinely with classified information, the security risks are especially high.”
Last week, the IG’s office sent the group a letter saying it would not investigate the matter — but the IG later said the letter had been sent in error and that no decision had been made about whether it will investigate Carter.
“The [IG] has not closed this matter; rather, we are continuing to monitor the information requested from the Department of Defense by Congress,” said IG spokeswoman Bridget Serchak. The IG, she said, “will make a determination, based on that information, whether any further action from the [IG] is warranted regarding this matter.”