A federal agency appears to be hiding documentation that an administrative law judge was watching porn while he was working there, the Washington Examiner reported Wednesday.
According to the report, Robert Lesnick, who worked at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission as chief administrative law judge from 1979-2019, may have an evaluation in his file implicating he was watching pornography while at work for the agency.
The American Accountability Foundation watchdog organization filed a Freedom of Information Act request in March after a government employee tipped them off about the documents, but the agency responded with a “Glomar” denial in May, used when disclosing the information would reveal other private information, the publication reported.
The agency's response said it would "neither confirm nor deny the existence" of any such document, according to the Examiner.
Lesnick denied the existence of the document, calling it "fraudulent."
"If there is any document that purports to make such a claim, it is not an official government document and is fraudulent," Lesnick told the news outlet. "As for the remarkable claim you reference from a place I have not worked at in nearly four years, there is absolutely no truth to this baseless, malicious lie intended to damage my reputation."
In its response, the agency said it found "one record," but that the record involved "personal privacy protections."
Ethics watchdog group Protect the Public's Trust director Michael Chamberlain told the Examiner that while government organizations can use this type of denial, the practice could be "abused."
"If agencies are allowed to interpret certain exemptions to FOIA, specifically those related to personnel matters, too broadly they could effectively prevent the public from holding any officials accountable for misconduct," Chamberlain said in the report.
After the AAF appealed the decision and response, the three agency commissioners recused themselves from hearing the appeal, citing a law that states if a commissioner may be a "subject" of a FOIA request, they can recuse themselves from deciding the matter, the report said.
AAF director Tom Jones told the Examiner he thinks the agency is trying to keep the alleged porn watching "under the rug."
"So unless they have an epidemic of porn-watching at this agency, it's him," Jones said in the report.
According to the Examiner, Lesnick earned more than $100,000 per year working for the agency and had previously worked for as a Treasury Department special counsel from 1990-94.
The agency did not respond to the Examiner's requests for comment.
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