Read the transcript below:
Transcribed by J. C. Hendershot & Bethany Stotts
Interview with Christopher Horner by Roger Aronoff
The “Take AIM” show on BlogTalkRadio, January 23, 2013.
ROGER ARONOFF: Our guest today on Take AIM is Chris Horner. Chris is a Washington attorney and New York Times Bestselling author of several books, including Power Grab and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism. He’s a Senior Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and his latest book, just out, is The Liberal War on Transparency. We’re honored to have Christopher C. Horner, of the Competitive Enterprise [Institute], here today. Welcome, Christopher!
CHRISTOPHER HORNER: Thank you, Roger.
ARONOFF: Actually, I talked to you nearly three years ago, when Power Grab came out. There was one story in there that I would like you to recount, and that is how you got involved in this field. You told me your Enron story, which was fascinating just on several levels—people think of an energy company, why would they be going along with the Kyoto Treaty—
HORNER: Anti-energy policies, yes—
ARONOFF: —yes, anti-energy policies and things like that. But it was such a light bulb moment for you. Tell us a little about that.
HORNER: I’ll repeat it, probably, verbatim, because—it’s been fifteen—now, more than fifteen—years when I was, as I like to say, innocently practicing law in Washington, when a company—everyone’s favorite company at the time, because they were very close to the White House, the [Bill] Clinton-[Al] Gore White House, and they had friends with Republicans, too, being a Texas-based energy company—[asked me] to be Director of Federal Government Relations. That was Enron. It was, essentially, a no-interview job offer; they said, “We’ve got this position, we’d like you to take it.” I hadn’t really—I’d done one item for them on something completely unrelated; I didn’t know them all that well. We didn’t really get into the business model; they were just sold as a “free market pioneer” to me.
On my first or second day, I walked into a meeting where my boss was having a meeting with the Natural Resources Defense Council, and I was just viewing it as cats and dogs, that strange—but, of course, you can always try to find common ground. But it struck me as a little odd, because this is a fairly adamant group. The next day, I think, I sat in for, I think, Mr. Lay, who couldn’t make it, Ken Lay, at a meeting of something called the “Business Council for Sustainable”—I think they’ve changed the name a few times, let’s say “Environment” or “Energy.” There were industry groups; BP and Enron had created this Baptists and bootleggers coalition whereby industry which had invested—in the way that President [Barack] Obama uses the word “invested,” they had thrown money at things that are uneconomic—with an idea that they would then use the State to make them economic. And they were supporting Green pressure groups—there was the Union of Concerned Scientists and others on my left, and then BP and the American Gas Association, Niagara Mohawk Power, and all sorts of industry groups on my right—and they were figuring out, in 1997, How can we get a global warming treaty?—there was no Kyoto yet—and How do we get the U.S. involved? and How do we make sure it has what we want?
I went back to my office and sent an E-mail. It wasn’t well received; it was along the lines of “When did we go from ‘Is this real, and a problem?’ to ‘How to make a buck off it?’” That began a very unpleasant three weeks or so—I wasn’t Enron material, it was clear, but that opened my eyes, and I ended up with the Competitive Enterprise Institute not long thereafter. Because I had found an energy company working for energy scarcity policies—and in the name of market economics and prosperity when, quite clearly, the opposite was involved here—that was an eye-opening moment. I had not realized about Baptists and bootleggers before, where they don’t generally have much to do with each other, but where they have a shared interest in Prohibition—in this case, Prohibition of energy sources that work—Enron and BP had gone and thrown a lot of money at losers, windmills and solar panels—Enron Wind is now called GE Wind, and so on—because they were cheap, uneconomic, and then they set about getting the Green groups to scare people into accepting streams of revenues transferred—robbing Peter to pay Paul, Paul being Enron and BP and so on, and the Greens whetting their beaks along the way. Very eye-opening to the concept of “rent-seeking,” which is pretty much what I just described—making your money the old-fashioned way—
HORNER: —through policies, favors from your buddies in government. That led [me] to a whole host of things, including asking more questions of government. I go into that in the book, Liberal War on Transparency: Not long thereafter, I filed my first Freedom of Information Act request, because I was amazed—I mean, within months we saw, the Clinton administration had agreed to the Kyoto Treaty, despite unanimous Senate instruction not to. I wanted to find out, How does government really work? Here I was, thinking I knew—and, in fact, I didn’t.
ARONOFF: Interesting. In the book, The Liberal War on Transparency, you point out that the Obama administration came to power promising to be “the most transparent administration in history.” How’s that working out?
HORNER: Not very well, if you believe the Left-wing groups—who are, generally, sitting on their hands here, but they have slipped on message discipline a few times. I quote a few of these groups, three or four of them, saying that either the Obama administration is “the worst” on transparency ever—the least transparent ever—or “worse than Bush,” who they called “the worst.” So they uniformly acknowledge that this administration really isn’t all that in to transparency. It was a great talking point—apparently their pollsters told them people wanted to hear this—they were ostentatious in their proclamations of being “the most transparent ever,” and promiscuous in their violations of it to the point of, on its face, criminality. I have an affidavit from a government official in the book acknowledging what is, on its face, a criminal document destruction—a very elaborate, by the way, well-thought-through, three-stage document destruction operation involving bringing in private computers to the government office to destroy the government’s copies. It’s just spectacular, the lengths to which they’ve gone—false identities, moving government over to AOL—just remarkable.
ARONOFF: Yeah, it’s incredible. This is sort of the running theme through the book—the number of areas where this has taken place. The headline has been EPA, with Lisa Jackson, the Director of EPA, who has just stepped down. This had to do with them working with these anti-coal groups. You were looking into that—tell us how this evolved.
HORNER: Right. I revealed, in the book, that some secret E-mail accounts were set up at EPA. I found this out in a memo in which EPA explains to the National Archives that they just found out about it. The memo was in 2008, and they euphemize a word, a name, which shall not be spoken in the context of records management among this class, this sect, and that is Carol Browner. They euphemize her as “In the 1990s.”
Carol Browner had a problem with records management. When Mark Levin, the radio host and lawyer with Landmark Legal Foundation, sought Browner’s E-mails with Green pressure groups about these “midnight regulations” they had sown, these land mines to set up Bush—very well, they had an ad budget ready to run adorable little girls on television, holding up a glass of water, saying, “Mommy, may I please have more arsenic in my drinking water?”—by putting in place this unnecessary, expensive standard for him to say, “Wait a second, you’re going to cause actual harm to humans through harming the economy, and so on?” in the name of, essentially, a political stunt. Mark Levin wanted those E-mails; Carol Browner destroyed her hard drive. It was in violation of a federal court’s order. They found the hard drive; the FBI did do an analysis of it, and all they could say was that it in fact had been erased. But her “excuse,” for lack of a better word, was, “I didn’t use my computer really for E-mail, anyway.” Well, this memo showed that she had actively participated in setting up an alias account for herself, which is a strange thing to do when you “don’t use your computer for E-mail.”
So, anyway, I started asking some questions about the current administrator’s secondary account as well, and I discovered that she has a false identity, further than Browners, as far as we know: She created a false identity, a dummy employee, for herself, named “Richard Windsor,” had “Windsor’s” Lotus Notes account installed on at least three of her computers—our computers—and she was conducting certain correspondence on this false identity—again, false identity, for federal record-keeping purposes; if you’re not sure that’s a questionable idea—I’m not suggesting this—try it with the IRS, and get back to me on how it works out, okay? You really aren’t supposed to do this—and, in fact, they’re under particular legal obligations to maintain an adequate record of their activities. I suggest a false identity, on its face, does not maintain an adequate record of your activities. We don’t know what the intention was, but the obvious foreseeable outcome was, you were going to frustrate transparency.
Well, I started asking some questions after this, saying, “I want some specific E-mails.” You recall the “shellacking” press conference President Obama gave the day after the 2010 elections, in which he said he “took a shellacking,” and a reporter, more in sorrow than anger, asked, “What about cap-and-trade now? It did cost jobs—the jobs of some members of the House who voted for it. What will you do now?”
The President said, “There are other ways to skin that cat”—which is consistent with his long line, continuing line, that he can go around Congress—
HORNER: —and that laws are in the eye of the beholder. So I wanted to see what they were doing via E-mail to skin that cat of cap-and-trade, which failed when the public rebelled when it was tried properly through the democratic process. They stonewalled us, big surprise—as is the storyline with these people. We ended up in court—as is the storyline with these people. We’ve just now begun receiving document productions under that, and they have even blacked out the name of the account. EPA’s system doesn’t show you the address, it can’t be a violation of your privacy anyway—it’s an EPA address—and they’ve admitted it, but they blacked out the name associated with the account, because they just want to keep away from people these embarrassing documents. [Lisa Jackson] adopted a false identity.
This is the tip of the iceberg, by the way; we’ve got GMAILME.com at EPA. We found them using AOL out of the White House to strike those deals with the drug companies, and so on, and so forth—private computers, private servers, you name it.
ARONOFF: So is Congress, or the Justice Department, or anyone looking into this besides you? How is that progressing?
HORNER: We’ll start with the Justice Department. The good news is, of course, we have a Justice Department to handle this. The bad news is, we have this Justice Department to handle it, so, good luck with that. Eric Holder, actually, in following through on what turned out to be just a poll-tested promise of transparency, issued two memoranda, following on a President’s memo to heads of departments and agencies—which is like an executive order—saying, “No more of this abusing these exemptions, no more using the law as a way to withhold documents as opposed to releasing them. If it’s a discretionary exemption, let the document out, and so on.” They filed the affidavit acknowledging to this elaborate document destruction operation. It didn’t seem to really bother them; it was their excuse for not producing documents. So I hold very little hope out for this Department of Justice. Congress—this is very important for your readers, members and viewers, listeners: We have very few people interested in limited government, transparent government, have very little for the next two years at minimum. You’ve got oversight. You’ve got Congressional oversight, which is principally, but not exclusively, Darrell Issa in the House—and you’ve got us: You’ve got activist groups who are asking questions and who get an exemption for their fees under the law.
Right now, three full House committees, and one full Senate committee are on the “Richard Windsor” case, and on other things revealed in the book. So, already, I’m pleased with the outcome, because they are demanding answers by dates certain, and EPA has ignored every single request.
ARONOFF: One thing that strikes me—and this is what we watch all the time—is, while this is being covered by Congress, as you point out, what about the media? In other words, today, as we’re sitting here, the “Benghazigate” hearings are going on; they’re listening to Hillary Clinton. Nothing is ever called a “scandal” by the media. What has been the media’s reaction to what you’ve been doing, to Congress’s oversight on this matter? Is there any coverage that is balanced, that’s really taking a look at this?
HORNER: New media. The London Daily Mail covered the story. The Washington Post isn’t all that interested. The Washington Examiner, the Daily Caller, the Free Beacon—have been good about this. The Washington Times ran a piece that got Drudged pointing out the “Richard Windsor” scandal. It’s a false identity—I mean, it’s tough for the media to ignore that, and somehow they’re managing to. It’s a false identity created for record-keeping purposes, and I suggest—and this, I think, is just illustrative—there were fewer facepalm moments in the Cabinet meeting when this broke—“Why didn’t I think of that?”—than there were, “Uh-oh—they’re onto us.”
ARONOFF: “Richard Windsor” is a combination of the name of Lisa Jackson’s dog and the city she was raised in, right?
HORNER: That’s the line EPA would not state on the record to reporters. I’ve spoken to reporters who reported this saying they insisted on—they’ve done everything on background—
with the exception of a few misleading statements. But one of them of was this strange line that, “Well, everybody does it”—which is, (A), not true, and, (B), doesn’t quite square with “most transparent ever”—but, “There’s no evidence of a false identity.” That was their argument. It may or may not be true—I don’t know—but that’s their line. Somehow that makes it less improper—which has no bearing on the law. It’s a false identity!
ARONOFF: Right. It’s absolutely against the law to do that, right?
ARONOFF: Yes. The sub-title of your book is Confessions of a Freedom of Information Criminal. How did you become a criminal?
HORNER: The whole book is not all about EPA; I reveal things about the White House, Treasury Department, Department of Energy—the Solyndra Program was administered on fourteen separate E-mail accounts—and so on. But there’s a lot of the global warming industry that’s addressed here simply because the UN has demanded on some secret tricks—private computers, servers, and so on—that the White House is helping them with.
But the sub-title is specific to EPA. It was “Richard Windsor”—irony alert!—who took to a Berkeley Law School podium and gave a speech in which she said that my use of the Freedom of Information Act was “criminal”—only to later be exposed as having created a false identity for federal record-keeping purposes by said criminal, me. But that’s how they view these things: “You’re asking questions? You’re using a law?” Remember, this was the Progressives’ idea—back to [Justice Louis] Brandeis, sunlight as the best disinfectant, and so on—this was their big idea. Governmental authority in dollars that we cede to the government, and dollars that they coerce from us, are subject to abuse, so the taxpayer, the citizen, needs a check of being able to hold them accountable. Every employer is allowed to see how his resources are being used. We’re the employer; that gets lost a lot in this town.
HORNER: We’re the employer. And, suddenly, now that [the Progressives] are in charge of these institutions, well, “That threat of abuse is no longer there.” So while they don’t want to repeal these laws—because they may not always be charge of these institutions—they’re “archaic,” and they just need to be—what’s the word I’m looking—ignored, violated flagrantly.
ARONOFF: Okay. Another case you get into involves Jim Messina—who was Deputy White House Chief of Staff and—
HORNER: He was their “Fixer.”
ARONOFF: —campaign manager for 2012 for Obama. Just this week, I guess, he was announced as the new Director of Organizing for America. [Obama] has taken his campaign organization, basically, now into a kind of an activist non-profit group that’s kind of going to go out and try to help him achieve his agenda. But very interesting, what happened there: They use these computer servers outside the scope of what they’re supposed to have.
ARONOFF: Tell what happened here with Messina.
HORNER: What we know about Messina is—I don’t know what his involvement was in the White House, deciding to approve a privately-owned, privately-managed—by an NGO—computer server, sort of an electronic safe house for them to conduct certain discussions about this—UN IPCC, the Kyoto agenda, presumably free from our prying eyes, obviously—according to documents we’ve obtained—prompted by the “Climategate” leaks of public records that they were trying to hide. But he was Deputy Chief of Staff, so it’s fair to assume he had some sign-off on this, regardless.
We know that this starts at the top. When he was Deputy Chief of Staff—and he’s known as “The Fixer,” as I go into, and the Left Nation, I think it was, The Nation magazine, was calling him their “Fixer,” flying around on corporate jets and fixing their problems—one of his problems, apparently, was the Presidential Records Act, because, like the Federal Records Act, for non-White House, or non-Inner Circle employees, you have to create a record of what you’re doing. Now, the White House is exempt from FOIA releases—much of the White House, not all of it—but they’re not exempt from having to create a record of how they’re exercising their authority and spending our money. If he’s going to strike deals with drug companies whereby—not purely hypothetically, but in reality—he gives them $4 billion in Obamacare, and they give a promise to lobby for the bill, and pay $150 million in public affairs lobbying, advertising, and so on, you are to conduct that—if you conduct it on E-mail, as he did—at the who.eop.gov, his White House E-mail that we assign him, we pay for, for the purpose of doing your official business on it. Instead—and this was not political work, this was his official business, trying to strike the Obamacare deal—he moved over to AOL to strike these deals, which, really, is the way that entire White House operates. Even Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, and New York Times—to the extent there’s a difference—reported that these White House aides were taking to private E-mail accounts to email lobbyists—strike two, gasp, you know, those people they wouldn’t deal with, to set up meetings, but off-campus—
HORNER: —so there would be no record created on the visitor logs, which they then pounded their chests, saying, “Look at us, we released the visitor logs—which we were then skirting to make sure they weren’t complete, and actually fought in court, anyway!” Their words don’t always match their rhetoric.
So Messina was using AOL to strike these deals. For some reason it seemed—I can only conclude the reasonable conclusion—he did not wish for this particular correspondence to go down for the historical record, for historians, journalists, or whomever. The White House aides circumvented record-keeping laws and disclosure, transparency laws to set up these meetings at Caribou Coffee with lobbyists. It seems to be that that’s the same mentality behind all of these tactics that I describe in the book—which are government-wide, not just through the politicals; there are some activist career employees involved. They are very deliberate—and sometimes elaborate. The Wall Street Journal dedicated pages of outrage to these E-mails, but they didn’t know this was an AOL account. I do.
ARONOFF: Right. Is the implication that they were hoping, eventually, to hide the fact that the pharmaceutical industry was going to spend $150 million promoting Obamacare? Was that—
HORNER: They didn’t issue a press release touting the accord—
HORNER: —but that’s the reasonable—I don’t know any other reasonable conclusion of circumventing legal requirements, that you use your officially assigned account to conduct official business.
HORNER: The rules are clear throughout government: If, by chance, you are stranded and you have to use a private account, you copy your government account, or you give them what’s called the “Gold Standard,” a hard copy. Now, there have been mutterings of “Oh, I did that,” but there is very little evidence to support that. They took to [private accounts] for the really embarrassing things, or the really—on its face—sleazy things.
Deals with drug companies for Obamacare when you’re publicly beating them up as who you’re attacking—“We’re going to take care of those drug companies!”—when it turns out, in fact, that they want the deal, and are paying to get it? You move over to AOL. The Solyndra program? You move over to fourteen private accounts. And so on. The IPCC, the global warming scheme, which is very hot-button? You move that to a private server.
The common thread throughout all of this is that the things that they probably don’t want to be disclosed happen to be the things, the discussions, and activities they conduct, on private resources. But the law is clear: Performing official business on private resources doesn’t make it any less official.
ARONOFF: Right. Solyndra, I mean, is another incredible example. The E-mail is what provided this roadmap that we learned what the administration was doing: They were favoring bundlers with over a half-a-billion dollars while all the red flags said, “Stay away from this company, they’re going under!” Yet they sunk all this taxpayer money into it. They tried hiding it, but that’s “not a scandal”?
HORNER: It was until we—here’s the game they play, and I go into this: They’ll release 400,000 pages of Solyndra documents—and by the way, the political people in the White House, they were doing politics and just thinking—they didn’t consider, for the most part, moving over to private E-mail accounts. But the people who are running the program, who really knew what was going on, ran fourteen separate private accounts to execute this. But the politicals were just thinking, I’m a political animal, I’m in the White House; those E-mails got released to Congress. Congress had to go after the private accounts and, while the White House was resistant to pressure, private individuals are less welcoming of the idea that they would resist a possible subpoena and antagonize government in apparent violation of legal obligation. So the White House would say, “We gave you 400,000 pages. What else could you possibly want?”
HORNER: The answer is, “The thousand you won’t give me! I mean, what’s the relevant number here? It was actually more than a thousand they were withholding, but if you give me 800,000 and withhold 100,000—
HORNER: —the number to discuss is the 100 or the 1,000 you’re withholding. That’s called the “good stuff.”
HORNER: So I’m going through this with “Richard Windsor.” They give us chaff first; it was all Washington Post clippings and her Google Alerts—about herself, and they’re withholding all the rest. Then they wave around—“Look at all this! What else could you possibly want?’
HORNER: I want the stuff you’re withholding! You’re withholding it for a reason.
ARONOFF: NASA is another one you just mentioned; they created this phony website about global warming—
HORNER: Oh, it was a real website—
HORNER: —it’s just that it was being run on taxpayer time, out of a taxpayer-funded office, as an activist organ.
HORNER: When we pointed out, “Your time stamps here show that the editor, who works for NASA, is doing this during what are generally called ‘working hours’—Tuesday at 11a.m.—” suddenly, all the time stamps from all the blog entries disappeared, which was nice evidence of their mind—but also evidence that they didn’t think we would’ve saved copies before telling them. Well, we did.
So we went through this process, administratively, of trying to get these E-mails. We got a lot discussing various stunts they were pulling—sexing up temperatures during the George W. Bush administration, making all sorts of errors and then admitting they weren’t keeping records—and showing how they were working the media very hand-in-glove, and telling the media that they actually didn’t have a temperature data set, despite being still reported as having one of the world’s authoritative temperatures data sets: They go, “Nah, I wouldn’t use ours. We just use the one in the U.K.”—the one that was exposed in Climategate as not existing.
HORNER: So four just got cut to two—the data set figure—like that. But in the process of this we said, “You’re not turning over certain other E-mails.”
They said, “Our very good excuse is, because we’re destroying them.” This came in an affidavit from the Deputy Head of this section of NASA, and he described a very elaborate operation. This activist, who works for NASA, purchased a computer, a desktop computer, which is sitting in his—our—office. He purchased it with taxpayer money from a National Science Foundation grant. But it’s not the taxpayer’s—it’s his, you see—so he’s using it to access his NASA records. In the affidavit they describe a system whereby—and this has to be deliberately established, it doesn’t just happen, as you know—when they access the NASA records it destroys the government’s copy—that’s a “No-No” under the criminal code—on their spool. We’ve not had the forensic examination of NASA’s computer spool, like Mark Levin got of Carol Browner’s hard drive when they finally recovered it, but we’re still in court, sitting on a motion for more than a year, waiting to search either that, or this computer that’s sitting there in the NASA office that we paid for but we’re being denied access to search, which is where the copies of the records are being retained. Now, this was their excuse for not producing records. Again, they submitted it under oath, and walked away from it. The Department of Justice didn’t even consider the possible criminal code implications of deliberate document destruction.
ARONOFF: Give me a scenario where this can have the ending that it should, where they openly acknowledge destroying these. I mean, the law’s being broken left and right, yet the Justice Department won’t touch it; the House—Issa’s committee—has oversight; the media, except the conservative media and the blogosphere, ignore it. What’s going to happen? What can happen? How can we, as citizens who feel outraged, hope for some kind of satisfactory conclusion to these?
HORNER: Keep hoping, and keep working hard.
HORNER: We’re in court now. It takes resources, but we’ve been there—but, like I say, the court should suggest there may be a problem here and ask further questions. This is one of these bizarre instances where the court is sitting on a motion for more than a year, fully briefed, just doing nothing. Now this one involves, on its face, criminal activity, so they should at least be called to explain.
In the meantime, Congress is being very diligent about oversight, but there is so much out there. They have picked up what we discovered: The “Richard Windsor” scandal; the Gmails, the firstname.lastname@example.org; the clever sue-and-settle agreements we have found through E-mails whereby the Greens will sue EPA, then EPA will bring in the Greens’ consultant as the head of their regional agency, he immediately strikes a deal with them, and then they export that throughout the country. I mean, we’re finding what seems to be at least small “c” corruption through the government, and that’s a lot to chase down. But I will say that, so far, Congress has been very attentive. Darrell Issa’s committee—he just scaled it back, from seven to five subcommittees, but there’s a very good new Chairman on the relevant, sort of, Energy Oversight Subcommittee; that’s Mr. [James] Lankford from Oklahoma. David Vitter, with the Senate Environment Committee, has gotten a running start on oversight, including “Richard Windsor,” the games EPA’s playing with private E-mail accounts, secret false identity addresses, and so on. So things are looking much better now than they did when the book came out in October; I’m very pleased at that reaction. That doesn’t solve the problem; we still have to get to the NASA affidavit—what are you doing acknowledging criminal activity to destroy records as your excuse for not turning over records?
HORNER: We’ve got systemic problems that need to be fixed. You’ve hit the nail on the head at first, which is, the Department of Justice should clean house, but they have no interest. Less than no interest.
ARONOFF: Yes, so, is impeachment a plausible conclusion to this thing—I mean, since the Justice Department’s not going to do anything?
HORNER: I don’t know that—well, I mean, Presidential? We can’t trace this back to him.
HORNER: However, you clearly have instances where employees need to go, but not just go—with reforms to follow. I will tell you right now, Congressional oversight committees—the House Science Committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committees, and the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in the House—have all been asking EPA very specific questions: How deep does this rot go? How many people are using false identities? How many addresses are you using? How widespread is this practice that’s been uncovered—I’m going to phrase that less passively—that I uncovered? I’m proud of this!
And EPA ignored them. So they said, “Tell you what: You ignored, me so I want a response by close of business, January 5th—maybe it was the 4th—5th. [EPA] ignored them. So at some point—there’s a game of “chicken” going on here: EPA is daring them to issue subpoenas so they can yell “Witch hunt!,” which is what they do; I go through this, through all of their games, but there seems to be so much smoke, and we have affidavits attesting to things that really need some explaining—because they appear to be criminal! They’re playing a waiting game. I will tell you, in the litigation in which they responding, where we get these production schedules from the Department of Justice, they’re still clearly trying to tap dance their way deep into the calendar. There’s very little interest in coming clean, there really is—I know that probably shocks very few, but it’s still appalling.
ARONOFF: What is the role of academia? You get into that quite a bit in the book, too. How are they tied in with these issues?
HORNER: Publicly-funded academia—well, that’s most of academia; let’s say state universities—are an extension of government. They are government agencies under most state freedom of information laws. We’re still in court with the University of Virginia now; we fear we’re going to have to sue another university out west over similar records relating to Climategate and the “hockey stick” fairly soon. They’re covered—these are our records, too—so we’ve gone into the states. Had some pretty good luck in Texas—it’s not luck; it’s a better law: They have to ask the Attorney General there before they can stonewall somebody, which is a great improvement—over, for example, Virginia, where they stonewalled the Attorney General.
These are agencies obviously controlled, largely, by the same people who control the executive branch of government—that is, the same mindset, people who want to use government and academia to ensure increased government in academia, so they’re using the things they’re spending our money on to create this argument, and the intellectual ammunition for taking more of our money to create more of these things they’re spending our money on: They’re lobbying for themselves and they’re creating the intellectual ammunition to do so. Universities are a very big component of that machine. So I think that’s a very good place to look, as are city councils, local school districts—if you see a casting call in the paper for jugglers and clowns because the General Services Administration is having a meeting is town, start asking questions.
The last two chapters are a how-to for that very important reason: It’s far more difficult for them to politicize this when more people are asking questions—I mean, it really does make it more difficult. They have continually stated, in draft pleadings they want me to sign off on, and in their letters to me, “You’re stopping us from doing our work as EPA. You’re requiring so many resources that we can’t do the things we really wanted to do. You’re making us comply with transparency laws, and so on—find ways not to comply with them.”
You can have an impact. I’m convinced of this now, and that’s why I encourage people—please get involved! It’s clear you can have an impact! And, by the way, when more people start asking for records, the chances are that records they’re withholding from one person, they’ll release to another. We proved that with “Richard Windsor.”
ARONOFF: You cite one example that kind of was jaw-dropping: How some of the professors or teachers at a university are suing to be able to use their computers for internet pornography.
HORNER: That’s actually the controlling case on this idea of academic freedom. It was key to, but ultimately didn’t determine, the trial court level decision about our lawsuit against the University of Virginia. There, some Virginia academics who wanted to use their taxpayer-funded computers, offices, et cetera to surf porn—because it was “research,” no doubt—and they argued that they had a right to academic freedom, grounded in the First Amendment, to do so. The Fourth Circuit gave it a wonderful treatment, walking through the history of academic freedom, and concluding that it’s a nice institutional policy—it really is!—it’s just not in the First Amendment of the Constitution.
From the Guardian to universities to—by the way, I’ve uncovered an awful lot of this relationship between pressure groups, publicly funded academics, and activist media; we’re going to be pursuing more of this, simply because their reaction was so shrill—it really hurt when we pressed there—that they’re begging for us to press there more. We have found that there’s this sort of iron triangle whereby, for example, the Union of Concerned Scientists is bringing in public servants, or academics, and moot-courting them, giving them dossiers on members; for a global warming hearing they briefed them on their views on stimulus spending, gay marriage, and on their faith—this was critical to being able to be a good witness with these people—and then they’re putting them in contact—academics at these state universities—with a Washington, DC public affairs firm. We have E-mails from the academics saying, “Hey, I forget, Whatshisname at Union of Concerned Scientists has put me in contact with you.” Next thing you know, Frontline’s calling me, wondering why I’m harassing these academics, when in fact I’m trying to get records that the taxpayer owns. We’re seeing, we’re finding, more and more—now remember, these are public records that they all acknowledge they have no expectation of privacy when using these taxpayer-funded accounts—how the system’s really working, and a big part of that is publicly-funded academia.
ARONOFF: A couple of questions on freedom of information, because we’ve done a lot of that, too—sometimes it’s exciting detective work when you get material and you see something in there that you don’t think they intended for you to see, maybe because they didn’t even know what it was when they had it. We’ve had that. Actually, one of our big stories that we were involved in for years was TWA Flight 800; through getting these FBI documents, the testimony of the people, we found the person who was supposedly the eyewitness the CIA used—the CIA created this animation of what they said happened, the guy’s name happened to be “Wire,” and they didn’t recognize it; they just thought wire, like W-I-R-E—
ARONOFF: —I mean, like a physical wire. But we thought, This looks like a name, so we started calling Information and found the guy—he absolutely had no idea he was the one used, and he said they completely misrepresented what he said. Anyway, do you have any great moments of discovery from all of the FOIAs that you’ve received that stands out as just
kind of a great moment for you?
HORNER: Book’s full of them! I have to say—there’s this great—I showed this one E-mail with the head of Solyndra’s public affairs firm, lobbying firm. [He] E-mails the Assistant Secretary for Renewable Energy, saying, “I’m pool-side at Caesar’s, having a drink with your chief of staff!” I go to the Washington Post timeline of when the bag of money was being handed over, and this was right when the arms were being twisted in Washington—
HORNER: —[Cathy Zoi’s] chief of staff flies out to Vegas to sit poolside with their lobbyist. Like I say, I don’t know who picked up the check that day, but I know ultimately we picked up the tab for this being the way things work.
The memo revealing these secret E-mail accounts at EPA was a complete—you’re just wading through these deathless Government Accountability Office reports, you find something that might be interesting. You look at it like the old Rumsfeld speech about the “known unknowns” and the “unknown unknowns,” or, if there are any golfers out there, your first FOIA is your first putt: Don’t try to sink it in the hole, try to leave it where you can sink it in the next shot. Your first FOIA is really just your first FOIA!
HORNER: You are FOIAing to find out what you don’t know, chasing what you know you don’t know, only to find out more of what were unknown unknowns. Gosh, I’d say I got a million of them.
HORNER: “Richard Windsor,” I have copies of “Richard Windsor’s” emails that they released to us because the FOIA officers weren’t in on the game! So our request—not asking for Lisa Jackson’s emails—would turn up the things they’re actually fighting us in court for right now, because she clearly set up some separate process whereby a trusted political ally would handle requests for her correspondence, but there’s no Post-It Note on the wall at EPA in the FOIA offices saying “‘Richard Windsor’ equals ‘Lisa Jackson,’ sit on those, or redact it.” It was wonderful to see—
HORNER: —“Richard Windsor” coming up—in fact, a Left-wing group got “Richard Windsor” E-mails produced to them. I’d have to say it’s not every time, but now it’s almost every time, there will be something that’s turned over, because, remember, as long as a lot of us are doing this, they can’t sit on every one. By the way, as I write, I had career FOIA officers and lawyers within the government tell me they’ve installed political commissars in real hot-button agencies, who demand weekly briefings from the FOIA officers on requests that are coming, so they can get the wagons circled at all times, and then they sift what goes out, or doesn’t. Now, that’s new.
So the more we’re doing this, the more people get involved, the less effective that operation of politicizing transparency is, the more “Richard Windsor” E-mails will inadvertently slip out, the more Wires, or whatever. The more you—I guess [Richard] Cloward and [Frances Fox] Piven wanted to overwhelm the system—The more people say, “These are our records”—[Ronald] Reagan said, “I’m paying for this government”—or, “this microphone”—
HORNER: —well, we’re paying for this government. The more people realize, I’m the employer, every employer has the right to see how his or her resources are being used, I want to know—just start asking; you will see, I’m convinced of it. Practice has shown, the more we’re doing this, the less control they have as they desperately seek to tightly control the flow of information, which, you have to remember, isn’t theirs—it’s ours.
ARONOFF: They’ve so highly politicized this process, where people who share their agenda can get the documents in a day—
HORNER: It’s amazing.
ARONOFF: —as little as a day or so; and for us, and for you, it—
ARONOFF: —can take years. I just got an E-mail a couple days ago from a FOIA case that we’ve been on for over ten years. They said, “Oh, I’m just picking this up from 2003, are you still interested in this?” I said, “Yes, we are—we don’t drop these things!” But is this common to most administrations? Has this been dramatically amped up under this one—the politicization of FOIA?
HORNER: The politicization is according to people that I interviewed. Sometimes they may not have known they were being interviewed because I had a case with them—but I’m learning, as they spill, that these were unprecedented actions, the politicizing of what was an apolitical function. Now, that doesn’t mean that you won’t get—I for years have gotten requests, “Hey I’m just getting onto this,” and it’s about the BP spill, it’s at the Coast Guard. These large volume events that occur—TWA 800, something that prompts a lot of requests, maybe—you’ll find that happens. But, generally, the careers only have one bias, really. It isn’t to stiff you—the careers’ bias is to not let anything out that is better let out on appeal, because they’ll get the office without a window or a phone if they do something wrong.
So their bias is to withhold when they shouldn’t. But other than that, their objective is not to stiff you—but that’s why they put politicals in. For example, I’ve got one—I don’t want to get too detailed because we’re about to sue—where I’ve had FOIA officers tell me that completely unrelated requests of mine—she got one, her colleague down the street in the office got another—and the head of the office came and removed both of those unrelated requests from them and said, “Don’t do anything more on this,” when the only common thread, besides it was obviously going to be embarrassing to them, was me. “He’s at it again, he’s requesting this particular information.” We’re about to sue on this, so that’s all I’ll say. That’s all I’ll say about that right now.
HORNER: But if EPA’s watching they’ll know what it is. I had several of these cases, whereby they made it clear—for example, they will respond to completely unrelated requests of mine; the only commonality is, it’s to the same agency, and it’s from me, and they’ll send a response letter addressing them together—somebody there’s on the watch for troublemakers!
HORNER: So become one of those troublemakers. Make them watch for you. Like I say, that’ll be difficult to do if a lot more people get involved—it’s far more difficult to politicize.
ARONOFF: Make that case for average people who aren’t part of an organization like yours or ours, and they want to get involved: How can they go about doing Freedom of Information?
HORNER: The basic principles apply throughout: You’ve got a federal law and then you’ve got the state laws. And the state laws come down, usually, to the city council—Charlottesville City Council, the Albemarle City School District, the state of Virginia, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, George Mason University.
HORNER: Whatever your focus is, the same principles in the federal law and the Virginia law apply. There are exceptions, and I walk through this.
Here are the basic principles. Here’s how to consider to narrow your request: If you’ve got a suspicion, just spend the hour doing it, and if you’re not, read the letter carefully that they send in response, and then follow up, because they’re a lot less guarded. The more local the level, the less guarded they are. They can become very sophisticated in the White House, moving the government over to AOL and setting up private servers and things like this, but at the city council level, if you’ve got a concern, ask! That’s why the last two chapters are the basic principles and the “how-to.” I believe every group should have a FOIA operation, and we need more support for lawyers to push this.
HORNER: There are a couple of groups now getting active in this, so that’s a good sign. In the meantime, if you have a newsletter, if you have a blog—if you are in any way a journalist, okay?—citizen journalists need to step in where the establishment journalism industry has decided that they’re going to take a pass because, “The guy in office, his heart’s in the right place, so we probably shouldn’t ask too many questions, push too hard.” I think you just start by asking questions, and you’ll see how quickly it comes.
ARONOFF: One more subject here, and that is, this week President Obama had his second inaugural address, and he said this about global warming: “We will respond to the threat of climate change knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.”
HORNER: He’s proven that.
ARONOFF: Respond: What do you think?
HORNER: He’s a very slow learner, it appears—if he’s trying to learn. I’ve got a caveat to that: Okay, he learned the path to creating these “shovel-ready,” new industries like windmills and solar panels, which were commercialized in the ’80s—the 1880s. All right? They’re not new. It’s a windmill. Get over your mysticism and romanticism; it’s a windmill. Always has been, always will be. It’s not innovative. Every billion you throw at these things is a billion that won’t go toward Flubber or pixie dust, because you’re just politically herding money to windmills, or a cure for cancer.
It’s just an insidious mindset, that the State can conjure up industries because they’ve decided, “I know we don’t do the following, and you say it’s for very rational reasons, but we should.” In Pyongyang they opened up a luxury high rise resort hotel, in downtown Pyongyang, and that’s classic political class. It’s just like Green jobs. “Well, I know we don’t have a luxury high-rise resort in downtown Pyongyang, but we should, and the political class—I’ve demanded that it happen.” You can only demand that for so long—a little longer, maybe, there than here, where the public isn’t as able to kick back. But [Obama] didn’t learn from Europe. He gave all of those speeches saying, “If you want to see what our future looks like, look at Spain.” Eight times he gave that speech—until some Spanish academics said, “No es bueno” in a very good paper, using two separate methods.
HORNER: And he no longer gave that speech; he substituted mighty Denmark for the model for our new economy, which makes sense: It’s a country with a population of half the size of Manhattan. We should model everything we have about them—I mean, why not? [They’re] in the most inhospitable thumb of the world.
My first reaction to this was, It’s so refreshing to see a politician who’s obsessive focus during the campaign carried through actually to governing! Then I remembered: He didn’t actually focus on this during the campaign, did he? He wanted to get reelected!
HORNER: So now he’s setting the stage for trying it all again. He’s not going to say “Look at Spain” anymore, he’s going to say, “Look at Germany.” We’re prepared for that. Germany’s collapsing; 800,000 Germans sit in the cold and the dark right now because they can’t afford to pay their electricity bills. I pointed this out. As I like to say, I know a little German; his name’s Wolfgang Müller. He and I wrote a piece in The Washington Examiner saying “White House, you really need to see the Google Translate function, because the German establishment press—Spiegel Online, Handelsblatt—their press has chronicled the collapse of what Obama continues to say, “Look over there, they’re the success story!” After getting burned about Spain—I mean, this is America; nobody reads Spanish, right?—and then realizing Denmark also was collapsing, he now is saying Germany is his success, and he’s going to promote that. Germany is a big, big problem. This is the weakest part of their economy, they’re hemorrhaging jobs, and they’ve got 800,000 Germans sitting in the cold and the dark right now. It’s a cruel system that’s collapsing that he’s trying to replicate. So we’re going to try to continue educating on this. There’s a chapter, as you know, in the book called “The Big Wind Cover-up” very related to this: I wanted to know how my government was mobilized to do a hit job on the Spanish academics who responded to [Obama’s] call to educate us on how well Spain is working out.
HORNER: It was dreadful what they did! My government was involved in trying to smear these people for addressing their own policies after the President of the United States, eight times, in speeches, invited the world to find out how Spain’s working out. In “The Big Wind Cover-up” we showed they got a lobby group to serve as the go-between, the cutout, between the Center for American Progress and the administration, to help write the smear with the Union of Concerned Scientists and Center for American Progress, and the industry lobby doing the work. I showed the E-mails whereby the senior official says, “The industry guy tells me they have a study. How quickly can we get it out?” It’s very revelatory about how, particularly, these people work, and begging the classic “What if a Republican did this?” response—
HORNER: —What if [George W.] Bush used the American Petroleum Institute and the American Enterprise Institute to say the following? Okay, well, The Washington Post would find a little more interest in that.
So [Obama] seems to be—he’s learned enough not to say “Look to Europe” anymore, but so far the indications are, he is going to make the run at claiming Germany is a success again. I just promise you, we’ll have as much educational fun with that as we did with Spain, because Germany is flailing desperately, with terrible human impact costs right now. A quick note: Germany’s economic growth, since they instituted this energy revolution that he says he’s going to replicate here has been what ours has been for the past three years. Ever since they put that in, that’s the new “normal.” Ours has been between 3% and 4%—instead, their growth has been a GDP growth 1% to 2% a year since they put in this supposedly Green nirvana, this economic
heaven that [Obama] is going to create by conjuring it. Their growth has been between 1% and 2% per year, which is the new “normal,” apparently—
HORNER: —while ours was growing 3% to 4%, sometimes over 5% a year.
HORNER: Why would we want to learn how to create jobs from that? And yet, you watch! We’ll keep on them with the FOIAs, because I’m sure they’ve discussed this.
ARONOFF: On global warming, help people who do try to read both sides and are confused, because we’ve seen recent reports that say “Last year was the hottest year on record! The hottest decade on record!” yet we also hear that since 1998 there’s been no warming, or no substantial warming. There appear to be plenty of scientists and plenty of people who no longer accept this, and I think one of the clearest indications is no longer calling it “global warming” but calling it “climate change,” because who can—
HORNER: Now “climate weirding.” They’re going to focus now on extreme weather. Look: The President, after saying, “Don’t reject the overwhelming consensus of scientists,” or whatever, says, “Don’t deny”—nice of him to invoke that again—“denier,” denialism—then goes on to repeat this nonsense that the science doesn’t show. The trend of drought is quite clearly the opposite, and so on. So I would say, first, if you believe in catastrophic manmade global warming, as Marvin Gaye sang, “Let’s get it on!” Let’s have this—it worked out so well with cap-and-trade. Please, do it again!
HORNER: But they won’t. This was setting the stage. I don’t know if it was a sop to the Greens before he approves Keystone XL. I don’t know what’s going on in his mind. But if they really felt that they could make the case, he would’ve tried to make the case. If he thought he could make this compelling case, he would’ve done it during the campaign. No? Okay, he knows he can’t. He stands up there during a moment like this, when there’s no real rebuttal, and the media are fawning to do it. What the next steps are, it won’t be trying cap-and-trade again.
By the way—this is a subject for another interview—we’re in court now with the Treasury Department for their E-mail discussions of carbon tax. They proved too much by admitting to 7,300 E-mails in this little office with no authority to do anything but sit around waiting for a carbon tax, just in the first six months of the year, six to eight months of the year. They’re busily working on this, and they’re not turning them over. All I can say is that these claims you cite—when somebody doesn’t say the temperature’s going up but they say the last ten years have been [going up], okay: If you want to tell me housing prices are going up, say housing prices are going up; if you’re trying to hide the fact that they’re not, you say, “Housing prices over the last decade have been the highest ever!”
HORNER: Well, it applies to temperatures, too.
ARONOFF: Okay. Any final thoughts? We covered a lot of ground here.
HORNER: Get active, read the last two chapters, and get at it—because I’m convinced the more of you that get out there and do this, the more likely things are going to slip out.
ARONOFF: Our guest has been Christopher Horner. His latest book, The Liberal War on Transparency, I highly recommend it. His organization, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, CEI.org. Visit the website, read the book: It’s very enlightening, and very important. And get involved! Chris, I want to thank you so much for—
HORNER: Thank you very much.
ARONOFF: —coming and being with us today.
HORNER: My pleasure.
ARONOFF: All right.