McCain: Secret email accounts fuel distrust

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is attacking the Obama administration for allowing top officials to use private email accounts to conduct official business.

Use of the secret accounts spurs public distrust of the government, McCain said in a letter sent to the White House on Monday, and prevents Congress from conducting appropriate oversight.

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"Your administration’s disdain towards congressional authority and its failure to disclose public records feeds into its adversarial relationship with Congress and fuels public distrust in government," he wrote.

The Associated Press reported this month that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other officials have maintained multiple government email accounts to conduct official business. The practice raised concerns among transparency advocates who worry that the separate accounts make government records difficult to obtain. 

The White House has denied that the accounts are secret, and contends that they merely provide an additional avenue for officials with publicly available email addresses to conduct business without their inboxes overflowing.  

Officials at the EPA have used secondary email accounts for more than a decade, and records are available to the public and Congress, according to the agency.

The AP had difficulty retrieving lists of many addresses from federal agencies, however.

McCain said that the practice allows the administration to side-step congressional oversight and runs counter to the administration's pledges of transparency.

"Congress cannot perform its constitutionally-mandated duty to report to the people what their government is doing while your administration creates secret alternate communications networks," McCain wrote in the letter. "If your administration continues to undermine congressional oversight, the political accountability of the executive branch will be severely weakened."

McCain also compared the lack of disclosure from the administration to the investigation into the Justice Department's failed gun-tracking Fast and Furious operation, during which the House cited Attorney General Eric Holder for contempt for not disclosing subpoenaed documents.

In the letter, McCain asked President Obama eight questions about the administration's response to public information requests and officials' use of additional email accounts.

McCain is the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee's permanent subcommittee on Investigations.