John Kerry leads an international jet-set life that might exhaust a runway model. If President Biden’s special envoy for climate was not in Washington or relaxing at his mansion near Nantucket Harbor, he could be found in Brazil, Panama, the Bahamas, or Germany. And that’s just in February and March.
While Kerry trumpets his meetings and appearances around the world, the State Department wraps the rest of his efforts in a cloak of secrecy usually reserved for CIA black box operations. It has refused to specify lists of people he is meeting with and who is advising him as he circles the globe. His office has stonewalled requests for budget and staffing information from legislators and government watchdog groups. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed last year by RealClearInvestigations for a breakdown on how the climate envoy’s roughly $16.5 million 2022 budget was spent, the State Department said it could not comply with the request until April 2025, months after both the 2024 election and the expiration of President Biden’s current term.
The secrecy surrounding Kerry’s work is reaching a boiling point with the threat of a congressional subpoena.
Frustrated that Kerry’s office ignored two previous requests for detailed information about its budget when his party was in the minority, Republican Rep. James Comer, who now heads the House Oversight Committee, sent what he labeled a final courtesy letter on April 25 and added that a subpoena would accompany the next request if Kerry’s “powerful, unchecked position” continued to hide the information.
“The State Department has not provided any meaningful updates to Committee staff inquiries on the status of producing these documents,” Comer wrote. “Envoy Kerry is engaging in activities that skirt congressional authority, threaten foreign policy under the guise of climate advocacy, and could undermine economic health. Yet, Envoy Kerry and his office are refusing to be transparent about their activities, spending, and staffing with the Committee – and the American people.”
Biden, who has identified climate change as the single greatest threat facing the United States, named Kerry the nation’s first “special envoy for climate” on his first day in office in 2021.
His precise job description is difficult to determine, although Kerry has been given a seat on the White House national security team, and it is commonly referred to as a “cabinet level” position – even though it did not require Senate confirmation.
Since taking office, Kerry has been indefatigable in attending conferences and meetings in far-flung posts and glittering capitals. His office has sent out his pronouncements to the press and copies of his public remarks from places such as Hanoi, Dhaka, London, Cairo (twice) and, last month, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But almost nothing is known about discussions and potential agreements made at his private meetings.
Given the Biden administration’s penchant for issuing sweeping executive orders, especially regarding the climate, Republicans worry that Kerry’s undefined position could translate into unchecked power to commit the United States to binding agreements with foreign powers. Neither the White House nor the State Department responded to questions about the precise nature of Kerry’s work, and whether he was authorized to negotiate treaties on behalf of the United States.
“John Kerry continues to negotiate deals with foreign governments, including the Chinese Communist Party, that potentially undermine the United States’ interests,” Comer wrote, without the envoy's providing any detail about the nature or scope of those deals or whether any have been approved.
In his speeches and other public appearances, Kerry warns that humanity has just a few years left to avert the catastrophic consequences of climate change.
“It is an existential issue; it is an issue where people today are dying,” he told MSNBC in late April. He has called for a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and endorsed the goal of zero emissions by 2050.
In his effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, Kerry has flown hundreds of thousands of miles – sometimes commercially, sometimes on his own private jet – leaving a gigantic carbon footprint in his wake. In just nine months last year he logged more than 180,000 miles, emitting some 9.5 million pounds of carbon, according to an analysis of his official travel announcements by the Washington Free Beacon.
The global travel and speeches to combat global warming have enjoyed glowing coverage from media outlets including The New Yorker, which praised his effort to “save the climate.” But thus far it has unfolded behind a cloak of invisibility beyond the press releases.
RCI reached out to the Washington office of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development and the liberal Common Cause, which trumpets the need for “transparency and accountability” in government. Neither group responded to questions about the special climate envoy’s refusal to make his spending public.
In the House, it’s unclear how much support there may be for the efforts of Comer and others to shine a light on Kerry’s black budget. RCI reached out to more than 80 representatives, including every Republican member of the Freedom Caucus and the Appropriations Committee – which is ultimately responsible for directing federal funding – and asked if they possessed any information about Kerry’s budget and spending and whether they believed government bodies should hide their financial activities.
Only six responded, and there was no response from a dozen Democrats on the Appropriations Committee, including ranking member Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut.
Those who did respond were united in saying they thought Kerry’s office should allow public review of its work. Republican Reps. Chip Roy and Scott Perry, of Texas and Pennsylvania respectively, sent a letter in March to DeLauro and others asking them to defund Kerry’s office, citing what they fear is his willingness to partner with left-wing environmental agencies and alleged free market meddling.
“The U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, is actively undermining U.S. energy production and independence in the name of climate hysteria,” Roy and Perry wrote. “Despite skyrocketing energy prices and an increasingly unreliable electrical grid, Kerry has said ‘we have to push back hard’ on efforts to increase oil production and expand fossil fuel infrastructure. Kerry has also reportedly pressured banks and other financial institutions to divest from fossil fuels. Finally, Kerry actively jeopardizes U.S. sovereignty by making dangerous commitments at international climate conferences without the backing of Congress.”
Congress and RCI are not alone in being stonewalled by Kerry’s office. Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog group, also filed a FOIA request for information on Kerry’s spending and staff, and they followed that up with a lawsuit last October.
“They’ve gone and created this new position, but they don’t want to tell us anything about what he’s been doing,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told RCI. “The resting state of the deep state is secrecy, and unfortunately it’s not unusual to get this obstruction and contempt for the FOIA law.”
Since February, Kerry’s office has provided Judicial Watch with small batches of documents, such as a vague organizational chart, trying to slow-walk compliance with the law, Fitton said.
The notion that such a government agency’s work and spending should be beyond public purview is preposterous, said Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of OpenTheBooks, which works to make government spending public. (His work appears in RealClearInvestigations.)
“Kerry can’t operate according to his own accord and spend tens of millions of dollars in his budget as the special envoy without transparency,” Andrzejewski said. “The people, the press and politicians in Congress need to hold him accountable for his spending as they do with all unelected bureaucrats.”