A new report published by The Daily Beast revealed rather underreported court filings that show the Justice Department was kept from reviewing all the email accounts it was supposed to for almost a year, due to a “technical glitch.”
The report details how Vanessa Brinkmann, the senior counsel for the department’s Office of Information Policy, filed these revelations during a litigation proceeding brought forth by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (otherwise known as CREW). The group is currently suing the DOJ for internal communications among senior officials regarding the anti-Trump text message scandal and the decision to release the messages of former agents Peter Strzok and his then-lover, Lisa Page. In a scathing 500-page report from DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, there were over 50,000 texts exchanged between the agents, while only a few of them discussed the “unfortunate outcome” of a Donald Trump presidency.
According to journalist Betsy Woodruff, CREW is concerned that the department’s decision to share the texts with the media was some “politically motivated effort” to validate the president’s narrative that he is the target of unethical officials within federal law enforcement. Hence why CREW, through court and FOIA requests, want to scour through the government’s conduct to ensure everything is on the up and up. A simple enough process if it weren’t for the Justice Department admitting that technical difficulties have been preventing them from doing just that.
Since last October, the Trump DOJ has been experiencing a glitch that restricts public officials from searching the government email accounts of employees, meaning that key emails that should have been made public months ago “could have been inadvertently withheld.” Brinkmann, of course, didn’t share details of which officials were restricted from inquiry.
CREW reportedly wanted the emails from all DOJ senior leadership regarding the release. This includes (but is not limited to): the offices of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as well as officials tasked with handling the Office of Legislative Affairs.
“It is pretty troubling to find out well into litigation that DOJ, for whatever reason, had not been searching all accounts, especially when we were only asking for senior leadership at DOJ,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesperson for CREW, who spoke with The Daily Beast. “We’re not saying it was intentional, but it’s certainly problematic for transparency.”
Brinkmann pleaded that the government is trying to hold true to the principle of free information, insisting repeat searches are being conducted, but not everyone is buying the narrative. A few of the outlets that reported the story cite Tom Fitton, the head of the right-wing transparency group Judicial Watch, who issued FOIA requests for these emails all the way back in December 2017.
“Did anyone delete emails?” he told The Daily Beast, after receiving a letter with the same glitch excuse. “Were emails deleted from the system before they went back and captured them? It raises questions as to whether the emails were lost. There’s always more than meets the eye in these sorts of issues when it comes to government agencies,” he continued. “And in this case, nearly a year later we found out that the database was incomplete and then they went back and tried to recapture those accounts that had not been taken up. Is there an email gap?”
Or is the most powerful government in the world just running on bad tech?
Fitton, while still pushing a disagreeable anti-government narrative, is correct in his skepticism for big unaccountable entities. TrigTent reported on a similar excuse being used by the National Security Agency (NSA), that notorious government spy branch who argued last year that large swaths of their surveillance data—which was subpoenaed as evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing — was simply “deleted” in their possession before it could be brought to trial. The government argued that their large facilities throughout the country simply just didn’t have enough hard-drive space for preserving important public info. You know, the very thing the agency uses to justify its existence.
Their best argument, which amounts to “whoops, our bad” dialogue and a studio audience laugh track, is that the government doesn’t have the right equipment to ensure rights are maintained. It’d be one thing if it just took too much manpower to conduct searches through intimidatingly large file cabinets, but it’s another when you just lose information.
This isn’t exclusive to the public sector. Google and Facebook are notorious for handling important data like casino chips to be tossed around the table. That, however, doesn’t excuse incompetence. One sector’s faults, be it by a genuine mistake or duplicity, doesn’t excuse the other acting hand-in-hand. After so many apparent glitches, the people will start to wonder whether this lack of transparency is just nothing more than an intended feature.