Profiles in Liberty: Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute
Christopher C. Horner serves as a Senior Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. As an attorney in Washington, DC, Horner has represented CEI as well as scientists and Members of the U.S. House and Senate on matters of environmental policy in the federal courts including the Supreme Court.
Horner has testified before the United States Senate Committees on Foreign Relations and Environment and Public Works, and works on a legal and policy level with numerous think tanks and policy organizations throughout the world. This week, Horner published a newly uncovered memo between the IPCC and EPA.
Greenpeace has repeatedly targeted Mr. Horner, by stealing his garbage on a weekly basis, issuing press releases announcing with whom he dines and including him in various other hysterical publications including most recently “A Field Guide to Climate Criminals” distributed at the UN climate meeting in Montreal in December 2005.
If you haven’t purchased his new book, The liberal War on Transparency: Confessions of a Freedom of Information “Criminal,” you should do so today! Follow him on Twitter @Chris_C_Horner.
Matt Naugle: How did you become a libertarian?
Chris Horner: I consider myself a Libertarian Conservative, and arrived there by trial, error, experience, and understanding. I came of age under Ronald Reagan’s presidency considering myself simply “Republican,” had a youthful indiscretion working for a Democrat or two in Washington, swung back from that in near-horror and then, with the Enron experience I describe in the book, began revisiting my assumptions.
MN: When did you first start filing FOIAs, and when did you realize government and public universities often hide information?
CH: I began in - I believe - 1997, probing about hysterical claims about 40,000 Americans dying each and every year who would be saved by an extraordinarily expensive set of rules, the support for which reflected an increasingly common ploy: farm out the task for creating the support to a private entity, then the government and the private party both cite the other’s ownership or stake as why they can’t release the details for assessment. These two rules would save spectacular numbers of needless, avoidable deaths — we were told, obviously to cow opposition into fearing the noise machine calling them heartless, etc. Yet, as I established, the Clinton-Gore administration did not even consider invoking emergency rulemaking, available to them under not one but two laws and invoked to save, say, a small number of sea turtles.
That one smelled. After probing and getting these answers, the body count soon dropped precipitously. Still, the episode let to passage of the Federal Information Quality Act.
I continued asking questions throughout that administration and the Bush years, but I escalated my FOIA-ing into what I consider a transparency campaign during the Obama administration’s bull-rush to cram down terribly harmful policies in its first few months. These included obtaining the Treasury Department memo stating that the don’t cost nuthin’cap-and-trade program was, when talking among themselves, expected to raise $400 billion per year, equivalent to the corporate income tax, highest in the developed world.
That, and nasty, coordinated effort to smear critics of the shared agenda of creating a Solyndra-based economy, with an industry lobby and left-wing pressure groups. I lay out in their glory the emails I discovered about this in the book, which warrant a chapter for the tactics they reveal as well as the breathtaking cynicism displayed in the administration’s relationship with a big business lobby… I recalled something about that in Obama’s campaign. …and frankly the role that lobby, the American Wind Energy Association, now the Republicans’ new BFFs, serving as the go-between with the Center for American Progress and “Union of Concerned Scientists” to avoid creating a paper trail.
MN: Why is your organization, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, suing the EPA?
CH: Which time? I kid. Sort of. I first sued them for CEI thirteen or so years ago over records they were unlawfully withholding. In recent weeks we filed two suits seeking emails and other records reflecting what I write about as The Liberal War on Transparency. In September we sued for records of an EPA regional administrator who, we demonstrated to the Agency, has a history of creating a Gmail account with the same pattern: first.last.acronym@Gmail.com, in his public service — which revolves between stints with an environmental pressure group (the acronym being of whatever agency he worked for at the time).
The law is clear that performing public duties on private resources doesn’t make the record any less public. And yet there is an epidemic of trying it, anyway. In this case, EPA stated a flat-out untruth in seeking to dismiss us, claiming that performing agency work on private email accounts makes it not a government record. This shows they either are not aware of or not concerned with applicable law and regulation. So we sued.
Second, we sought records discussing the creation, assignment and use of non-public email accounts which began under and with the active participation of of former Clinton-Gore EPA head, then Obama “energy and environment czar”, Carol Browner. I learned of these during my research for the book, plowing through obscure GAO reports on records management, one of which referred to an EPA memo to the National Archivist. I obtained the memo via FOIA. It was striking because Ms. Browner had ordered her computer hard drive erased and backup tapes destroyed in the last few days of the Clinton-Gore administration, destroying records at the center of a lawsuit by Mark Levin. This violated a court “preservation” order but also reminds us of this provision of the U.S. criminal code. Browner explained that, well, she didn’t use her computer for email, anyway, it was just that her son played video games on her machine and so she wanted it nice and clean and properly formatted for the Bushies. Really.
The memo I found places that facially suspect claim in an even more troubling light.
I also sought specific, described emails on the non-public account of current administrator Jackson — who has called my FOIAing “criminal”, hence the book subtitle — relating to their backdoor cap-and-trade.
But please, don’t get the impression this is a “global warming” book. I’ve uncovered and reveal a government-wide epidemic, extending to publicly funded academia, of hiding what they’re up to on our dime, records which we own and are owed.
MN: What did Jim Messina, President Barack Obama’s campaign manager, do while serving as White House deputy chief of staff?
CH: Although all federal employees are provided email accounts by the taxpayer, on which they are required to perform their official work for reasons of transparency and creating the official record of (as the Supreme Court wrote) what our government is up to, he apparently decided that deals with industries to support Obamacare were better conducted went off-line, so to speak. He turned to an AOL account to orchestrate the deal whereby drug companies received $4 billion under Obamacare, and agreed to buy $150 million in ads and lobby for the bill’s enactment.
Similarly, I also found the use of private computers and even a privately owned, password-protected computer server arranged for by the White House to conduct discussions with select outside parties about a controversial UN program. It’s all in the book and in fact that’s why I wrote the book. This is unacceptable, and it has to be exposed. Which is also why I added a how-to chapter at the end.
MN: Just how widespread is the problem of radical faculty at universities and colleges hiding information?
CH: According to emails obtained already, it is pervasive, extending to copying records and removing them from the premises, and they use the phrase “hide behind” repeatedly.
To show that academics are no different than other people, I suppose, in one typically pleasant meeting with senior University of Virginia management — about our lawsuit for certain public records they had claimed to have destroyed, but later admitted to the Commonwealth’s attorney general they in fact possessed — they wanted us to know that about 90% of the faculty had moved over to Gmail as a result of our suit to enforce a law they all agreed to as a condition of their employment.
If the administration knows this to be fact in even one instance, they had better be busy doing something about it. I suspect that, instead, at some point the taxpayers are going to have to.
And finally, only after our UVa FOI request did Big Academia and their pilot fish suddenly discover latent outrage over the idea of transparency in publicly funded academia. This includes the press, who use FOI laws more promiscuously than anyone and insist on their indispensability…as I point out, for some people, just not for others. Oddly, they hadn’t discovered these repressed feelings before, even when confronted by eight similar requests that preceded ours. But, those were issued by the right kind of people, all targeting the ‘wrong’ kind of academic or scientist.
So, it’s bad.
MN: With private communication over email or phone impossible to prevent, how do we make government more transparent?
CH: Enforce the laws. Right now they are insisting on turning transparency so on its head — you see, now that they’re in charge of the institutions they said might be abused, well, there’s no longer any need for these protections; now, it’s time to demand information of private individuals who, say, support speech the Left don’t like. My response is, no new laws for you until you obey the ones you’ve got.
But as to their day-to-day abuses of existing laws, if they move to telephone calls, all we will have is phone logs, which of course will not be complete even for their limited purpose. If public servants want to be secretive, they will find a way. I’ve found electronic safe-houses, of sorts (privately owned servers), private email of course, texting, “black accounts”, you name it. But these are all covered by the law and regulation. We are in the process of getting judicial affirmation of this. All we can do is try to leave no safe harbor for behavior that is quite obviously in violation of the letter of the law, leaving them less convenient tactics that violate merely the spirit of the great liberal achievment, laws requiring transparency in government.
MN: I loved your best selling book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism. Are you still convinced anthropogenic warming isn’t a concern?
CH: Thanks. Of course, the evidence from observations — the kind that we had to avoid, hence the ritual “we must act now!” cry — has only gotten stronger: we have far more to fear from global warming policies than global warming. And that includes the disaster of these policies in our fearless leader’s (formerly) express model, Europe. He doesn’t give that “look to Spain if you want to see what’s in store for you” speech anymore. Someone might ask why.
MN: How biased in New York Time’s climate reporter Justin Gillis?
CH: According to the emails of his I obtained from Texas A&M, he has no business maintaining any position as a nominally objective reporter, exploring the nuances of at least these issues with such potentially spectacular economic and social consequences. Possibly they could consider moving him to the theater critic’s page. Other than that I suppose he’s as fit for purpose as anyone else there.
MN: What is your favorite book?
CH: Night Soldiers, by Alan Furst. Which apparently some of our public servants also appreciated, for the “tradecraft.”
MN: Your favorite movie?
CH: I can’t say I have one, though I admit to watching some whenever they come on. For example The Godfather (II, especially). I spent a lot of time in theaters in Paris growing up and since then have always enjoyed trying out European films (and movie-length series which International Mystery runs), having also spent much time working in the EU and, best of all, marrying one of their finest exports. I’m fascinated by anything made, anywhere, between the end of WWII and the first few years of the ‘60s.
MN: Final words of wisdom from Chris Horner?
CH: Transparency is being turned on its head, and by the ideological heirs of its original champions. It is no longer the abuse of public institutions that is the threat, but private individuals who support speech the Left do not like, about whom all must be known. And not for purposes of good governance, but intimidation. As they view this as the purpose of information, well, we are to be denied actual public information.
Meanwhile, what is unfolding in the news is precisely what I’m talking about in the book. From leaking sensitive information from the highest levels for political gain while conducting the most aggressive whistleblower prosecution in history, the State Department scrubbing its website so that the past matches with the present spin, the now-exposed instinct to cover-up the tragedy of Benghazi, even the Obama “race speech” tape.
I write this in anticipation that in the first debate he and or moderator Jim Lehrer will invite Romney to address his horrible secrecy. Yet President Obama, his surrogates and most of the media, preach transparency as a campaign issue — while Mr. Obama’s path to power was nearly free from vetting yet littered with leaking opponents’ sealed court records miraculously and again unlawfully leaking late in campaigns. As his government historically stonewalls Congress and, as I detail, broadly engages in unlawful and in some cases criminal tricks to hide what they’re up to. Obama’s call for Romney to be transparent tonight will be the height of hypocrisy.