- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2013

Former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who resigned from the Obama administration in January to return to California, left Washington with $50,000 to $100,000 in legal debts, according to her final personal financial disclosure form, which she was required to file upon resigning her post.

Ms. Solis listed the debt, which amounts to 25 percent of her gross annual salary of $199,700, as “legal services” to Sidley Austin, a top white-collar law firm located in downtown D.C., which she paid in 2012. The group Americans for Limited Government was the first to note Ms. Solis’ legal debt in a blog post Thursday.

Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio said he didn’t know why Ms. Solis would need legal assistance last year and said he would forward the request to her. He also noted that he personally didn’t seek legal assistance in the past year. Ms. Solis did not respond to the Thursday request.

A call to Sidley-Austin’s media relations office also was not returned. Attorney-client privilege protects Ms. Solis from being forced to disclose the reason she sought legal help so the reason for the payments to the law firm is unclear.

The only major legal issue facing the Department of Labor last year was a federal criminal and civil investigation looking into possible improper leaks of Labor Department economic data that the government provides early to news organizations. Mr. Fillichio said he did not know whether Ms. Solis sought legal advice in response to the probes.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, the FBI and the Labor Department’s inspector general reviewed the possible leaks over the past four years as a part of a broader investigation into insider trading by the SEC and federal law enforcement authorities, and the scrutiny led to a change in the economic data’s release.

In response, the Labor Department last spring revoked early access to the economic data for a handful of companies that deilver that information to high-speed traders but produce little or no news content. Among those organizations were Need to Know News, part of Deutsche Borse Group, which produces no original news content. Instead, the company offers audio and computer delivery of economic data, according to its website.

The department also revoked access for RTTNews, an web-only business news wire service and aggregator based in Williamsville, N.Y. Labor Department officials said their decisions were based on whether the news outlet produces original reporting and distributes it to a wide audience.

All reporters can now bring only paper and pens into “lock-ups,” places in which they have time to review the data and prepare news stories before the information is publicly released.

But an internal Labor Department review by Sandia National Laboratories, a government contractor that safeguards the nation’s nuclear secrets and performs other security services, said the press room isn’t the most probable source if the data leak did occur.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in June called on Ms. Solis to testify about the change, as well as the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ process for releasing data. Ms. Solis declined to appear before the panel, instead sending Mr. Fillichio, her top media adviser, to testify in her stead.

• Susan Crabtree can be reached at scrabtree@washingtontimes.com.

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