Former Attorney General Eric Holder not only used an email alias to conduct formal agency business, but appropriated the birth name of one of his idols, NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, according to the Department of Justice.
“I was floored,” said investigative journalist Jason Leopold, who received a batch of “heavily redacted” documents through a FOIA lawsuit this week. At the top was a letter, announcing that “emails in the enclosed documents which use the account name ‘Lew Alcindor’ (Abdul-Jabbar) denote emails to or from Attorney General Eric Holder.”
“It was incredible,” said Leopold, who was seeking DOJ emails regarding a request for the agency to open a probe into charges that the CIA had been spying on the Senate intelligence committee staff. Leopold broke the story about the bizarre Holder-Alcindor alias for VICE News on Thursday.
“People may say, ‘what’s the big deal?’ but this is so important,” Leopold tells FoxNews.com. He insists that using an alias might complicate document searches, pointing out that the emails he received don’t even mention Holder’s name.
“It raises the question of whether they are trying to thwart public records requests and the Federal Records Act. It just seems shady.”
But DOJ insists the practice is above-board and legal, and top officials across the administration use aliases all the time to screen out spammers and unwanted emails.
Holder had two others during his tenure, both of which had to be changed due to breaches, a DOJ spokesman told FoxNews.com. Aliases are used because it is too easy for people to figure out officals’ emails using the .usdoj.gov domain, he said.
This was not the first time the Holder aliases have been reported. Former DOJ spokesman Brian Fallon confirmed them in May, although he would only say that one was based on “an athlete.” Holder left the agency in April of 2015 and was replaced by Loretta Lynch, who, incidentally, has an alias as well.
“(Holder’s) addresses were known to DOJ officials handling Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and congressional inquiries,” the spokesman said. “The FOIA office specifically notes when emails are from the Attorney General.”
In other words, he added, there is no possibility that FOIA requests are being thwarted, as Leopold suggests. “That is about keeping the wrong people from getting the Attorney General’s email address. The people who archive these files know what his name is.”
Calls to the public affairs group handling Abdul-Jabbar’s press were not returned by press time. The NBA’s all time scorer, 19-time All-Star and six-time MVP has been called a renaissance man, writing books and an opinion column, as well as getting out in front on political and cultural issues. After a visit to Holder’s office last year to film a documentary on race, Holder’s aide made it clear that Holder is a fan.
“He’s the AG’s hero, and he revolutionized the sport,” Margaret Richardson, Holder’s chief of staff at the time, told The Washington Post.
Leopold doubts he would have received the “Alcindor” emails if his request hadn’t risen to the level of a lawsuit. As someone who has filed hundreds of FOIA requests in the last three years, he believes the use of any alias will only frustrate the process.
“For an administration that claims to be transparent, this completely contradicts that,” he said, noting the aftermath of Hillary Clinton using her own private email and server to conduct official business when she was Secretary of State.
Laura Sheehan, a spokeswoman for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), told VICE that the practice of using aliases was fairly widespread.
“There is no prohibition against it, so long as they can be linked to the actual name,” she said.
Kelley Vlahos contributed to this report