Issa presses Web chief on personal e-mail use to contact former coworkers

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is pressing White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin to explain his relationship with his former employer, Google.

The congressman, who serves as ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, said McLaughlin's account on Google's new Buzz social network suggests he remains in touch with "more than two dozen individuals currently employed by Google, Inc., including a number of senior lobbyists and lawyers.”

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Consequently, Issa pressed McLaughlin in a letter sent Thursday to assure those communications have been archived according to federal law. He stressed his inquiry was necessary, given that McLaughlin's suspected use of a personal e-mail account to conduct official White House business "raises the specter that [he was] attempting to circumvent the laws associated with openness and transparency."

“The American people have a right to expect that White House employees are working to advance the public interest and not the interests of the lobby shops who formerly employed them," Issa noted in the letter. "The use of a Gmail account to communicate with lobbyists and evade transparency laws is at odds with President Obama’s promises to limit the influence of lobbyists." 

The congressman's letter on Thursday arrives about a week after Consumer Watchdog submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain copies of McLaughlin's recent e-mails with Google staffers. Their concern stemmed from a screenshot of McLaughlin's Google Buzz account that showed a number of the search giant's top employees subscribed to the deputy Web chief's updates.

It is not immediately clear whether McLaughlin actually communicates with those lobbyists and executives, given that Buzz automatically adds one's contacts to his or her subscriber list, a feature that has earned the social network scorn from private groups and members of Congress.

Still, the screenshot prompted Consumer Watchdog, at least, to question whether McLaughlin's job is itself a conflict of interest; a concern it previously expressed shortly after his appointment. And news that McLaughlin had used Gmail, not his White House e-mail account, to make those contacts prompted Issa to question whether those messages had been appropriately archived, as required by the Presidential Records Act.

He consequently asked McLaughlin to answer six questions related to those messages no later than April 22.

"The White House needs to address how it plans to ensure that communications with lobbyists and senior officials through private e-mail accounts are archived in full compliance with the law,” Issa said.

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