All-Star Panel: How transparent is the Obama administration?

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," June 4, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: A story at the White House today. The Associated Press writing about secret e-mails. Here's what they wrote, quote, "Some of President Barack Obama's political appointees, including the secretary of Health and Human Services, are using secret government e-mail accounts they say are necessary to prevent their inboxes from being overwhelmed with unwanted messages. The secret e-mail accounts complicate an agency's legal responsibilities to find and turn over e-mails in response to Congressional or internal investigations, civil lawsuits, or public records requests because employees assigned to compile such responses would necessarily need to know about the accounts to search them." Here's what the secretary of Health and Human Services said about that.       


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us about the secret e-mail accounts that you have --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madame secretary can you --

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: There is no secret e-mail account. There is a public e-mail and a private e-mail, and they are all FOIAable, they are all available. And 28,000 e-mails a month come into the public e-mail.  About 400 come into the private e-mail. It's just a management issue. I can't possibly answer or screen all of them and I want people to get timely answers.


BAIER: OK, we're back with the panel. What about this? Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, that's a nonsense answer. You can create another public e-mail that has a less obvious e-mail handle. That's what members of Congress do.  It's a way for them to manage the e-mails that they get.

Look, the idea that we're even having this discussion, given the way that President Obama came in and said that his administration would be the most open and transparent. Remember on January 21st, this was the day after he was inaugurated, he issued this transparency and open government memorandum, saying that his administration would be -- would have unprecedented levels of transparency to work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. So he was going to change course from the way things were. Not only has he not done that, his administration has been far worse as evidenced by these e-mails, as evidenced by the report that Catherine Herridge did on the failure to disclose after two years these Usama bin Laden documents. Issue after issue after issue going back four and a half years this administration has failed in its efforts to be transparent.

BAIER: Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: You know, I'm just trying to be sensitive to this, because I fully believe in transparency. But as I sit here, I will tell you what, I have a private e-mail because I want to be able to do business with people e or my family without everybody deluging me and spamming me. And so there is a Fox News e-mail that I have.


BAIER: Sure, but if you were in the government and we wanted a Freedom of Information Request, we would have to know what that e-mail is in order to get --

WILLIAMS: Well, you would have to ask me. So I guess the hardest point which I'm hearing and I'm trying to respond to this, is when I heard the statement that, you know what, in some of these cases in a recent EPA case that a member of Congress said I wasn't aware of one of these e-mail accounts and I don't believe they told me about it when we began the investigation. So the assumption then is they intentionally did not reveal that there existed another e-mail --


BAIER: Sure. Well, in fact, Lisa Jackson, the EPA administrator, essentially left during that time because she was operating as Richard Windsor. Senator Vitter talked about that.


WILLIAMS: That's what I'm talking about, right.

BAIER: Take a listen.


SEN. DAVID VITTER, R - LA: I've been confronting this for months in the case of EPA, you know, we went around and around with the so-called Richard Windsor e-mails.


BAIER: And that was Lisa Jackson. And there were many FOIA requests, months and months. They were not answering any of it and it was tied to Richard Windsor without tapping into that account. So, he is saying, Charles, that it's a convenient way to try to kind of get around the transparency issue.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, in fact, Juan's private e-mail account is Richard Windsor.


KRAUTHAMMER: It would tie all the conspiracies into one here.


Look, I'm sympathetic with Juan's view on this. I will let the shock wear off for a second. There are two reasons you could do this -- for efficiency or secrecy. I think Sebelius' argument is acceptable. She gets a lot of stuff. She has a private account. As long as the identity account is known and revealed to anybody who inquires I think it's OK. What Lisa Jackson did at EPA is to create a persona, this false guy, apparently doing stuff that would make it look as if it's a real person, giving him an identity, and that is clearly a way to hide. I mean, otherwise, you don't do that. You can have a second or a third e-mail account that everybody can see is yours, or even if they can't, you have a repository where it's known and revealed to investigators. But what Jackson did clearly is an issue of secrecy and hiding. But I give Sebelius a pass on this unless it can be shown that she was hiding the identity of her accounts from everybody.

BAIER: We should point out in the Grapevine we said that Richard Windsor received ethics awards from the EPA. True story.


KRAUTHAMMER: -- because of Juan's exemplary behavior.

WILLIAMS: That's how absurd Washington can be.

BAIER: I will also point out that James Rosen had a couple of private e-mail accounts, too.

Last word, Steve.

HAYES: Even if you agree with Juan and Charles -- that's an amazing thing to say.

BAIER: Let's just absorb that for a second.

HAYES: The administration -- hold the president to his own standards. What he has done, what they are doing is clearly not operating as the most transparent administration in history.  And in some respects they are operating as among the most secretive administrations in recent history.

KRAUTHAMMER: But I gave up on hope and change on inauguration day. So I'm not disappointed because I expected nothing.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned for brave recovery. 

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