Did Birnbaum lie to Congress?

posted at 12:55 pm on May 28, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

When the Minerals Management Service requested comments on the proposed 2010-2015 offshore drilling plan, American Solutions swung into action.  It mobilized its base of activists and generated almost 90,000 letters in support of the planned exploration policy, hoping to influence Congress and the White House to loosen restrictions on drilling and production.  That contributed to an overwhelmingly positive response to the proposal — which American Solutions only discovered when it pried the information from the Obama administration through a FOIA request earlier this year.

But that’s not the biggest story to come out of the FOIA request.  The woman who just got pushed from her spot at MMS misled Congress in testimony two months ago about the nature of that response — and apparently, Interior officials knew it and never corrected the record:

Minerals Management Service Director Liz Birnbaum has resigned. Upon hearing of the resignation, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Birnbaum “has been a strong leader, and we have done tremendous work.”  Salazar also said that Birnbaum helped to address a “culture of corruption” in MMS.

In reality, Liz Birnbaum contributed to the culture of corruption, enabled and abetted by a number of other political appointees at MMS and Interior, including Secretary Salazar, who never acted to correct the record after Birnbaum lied under oath to Congress in March about an offshore drilling comment period. …

After months of delay, we finally received on February 3, 2010, a set of documents that included an emailfrom Ms. Birnbaum to several Interior officials. As reported in the Wall Street Journal the next day, Birnbaum wrote “The Secretary may get questions about this [Freedom of Information Act] request while he’s in Houston … We do have a preliminary tabulation of the comments, it has not yet gone to the Secretary,” according to the email dated last Oct. 27 and sent to several Salazar aides. “So the Secretary can honestly say in response to any questions that he’s [sic] has not yet seen the analysis of the comments – staff is still working on it. I did, however, confirm to him the 2-1 split that these guys are emphasizing.”

Birnbaum’s October email was troubling enough for us to read in February, as it suggested a deliberate withholding of information to Secretary Salazar.

But what we didn’t know was that on October 13, 2009 – a full two weeks before Birnbaum’s email – MMS staff had already completed this 39-page memo on the breakdown of the 492,503 public comments, citing 332,929 comments in “general support” to the drilling program and 159,574 in “general opposition”– or 68% to 32% (i.e. 2 to 1).   We only learned about this 39 page memo when, on May 4, 2010, we received it along with additional documents in response to our original FOIA request.

How did Birnbaum describe this response to Congress on March 25th, 2010?  Despite confirming “a 2-1 split” in her internal e-mail, Birnbaum got a lot less specific when answering Rep. Doug Lamborn’s question:

U.S. REP. DOUG LAMBORN: As part of the development of the new OCS plan your agency accepted comments on the proposed 2010 plan.  There have been numerous reports regarding the nature of the public comment that came and there have been media reports about the content of those additional public comments.  Can you provide for this Committee a sense of how the comments came in on the draft proposed plan?

BIRNBAUM: …There isn’t a way, how you would characterize the comments depends on the interpretation of hundreds of different statements.   And so it is really hard to give a general sense of them, you need to go through and look at all of them… (emphasis added)

Here’s the video. Does Birnbaum “clear up what seems to be a misconception”?

In October, she knew enough to acknowledge the 2-1 margin of supporters over opponents. Birnbaum dodges it by saying that she hadn’t completed her analysis at that point and that she just acknowledged what American Solutions had claimed — but the e-mail reads much differently than that. Besides, this testimony took place six months later, and Birnbaum claimed that they still couldn’t make sense of the comments. If nothing else, maybe MMS should have hired someone who could handle a simple public-comment process. After all, isn’t the entire point of public comments to gain a sense of public support or opposition to a proposal? If Birnbaum couldn’t figure it out six months afterward, why was she in that position at all?

This probably isn’t perjury, but at the least it’s incompetence.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

The woman who just got pushed from her spot at MMS

Ummm… don’t you mean “resigned”? Helloooooo…

;-)

Abby Adams on May 28, 2010 at 12:58 PM

This probably isn’t perjury, but at the least it’s government incompetence.

Fixed it for Ed.

WashJeff on May 28, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Most transparent Opaque Administration ever.

portlandon on May 28, 2010 at 1:02 PM

What would be a surprise is to get the truth out of these people!
L

letget on May 28, 2010 at 1:03 PM

I am continually astounded at the stupidity and corruption in Washington. Where on earth do we find these people? If we used Monster.com, we would find infinitely more qualified people than the present crop of morons.

ultracon on May 28, 2010 at 1:03 PM

Incompetence? It seems like a deliberate attempt to mislead Congress to me. Not that that’s unusual from this administration; they’ve been deliberately misleading everyone from the CBO to the American public since the day they took office.

BKeyser on May 28, 2010 at 1:04 PM

I continue to be exasperated at the low standard Democrat administrations are held to, relative to Republican administrations.

How this is healthy in a democracy, I would like someone to explain to me.

You have one party that gets away with corruption and incompetence daily.

You have another party (GOP) that is hammered daily with any problems it has, but who also is tagged with all of the screwups of the other party (the Democrats), which are somehow twisted around.

This is not healthy. It’s because of the MSM that the Democrat Party is such a destructive force in this country, they never could have gotten this far on their own.

NoDonkey on May 28, 2010 at 1:04 PM

This probably isn’t perjury, but at the least it’s incompetence.

Well wouldn’t that depend on what the meaning of perjury “is”?

GarandFan on May 28, 2010 at 1:08 PM

Awfully shaky!!!!!

canopfor on May 28, 2010 at 1:11 PM

It may not be perjury, but it may be a violation of the Adminsitrative Procedures Act. And this Administration is doing a lot of that, simply ignoring public comments whenever it feels like it. I have a friend who is a lobbyist with EPA and said they just did the same thing on a formaldehyde study and have gotten caught. EPA has routinely ignored comments, not just from the public, but even from National Academy of Sciences panels and from U.S. Senators.

rockmom on May 28, 2010 at 1:12 PM

Yes, it’s not just incompetence, but also deliberate misrepresentation (aka lying).

Birnbaum’s gone. Now Salazar must go.

petefrt on May 28, 2010 at 1:14 PM

Look like another Van Jones has been revealved. Keep shaking that tree because there is plenty more.

Dire Straits on May 28, 2010 at 1:15 PM

I also want to know when somebody is going to start looking at Ms. Birnbaum’s woeful lack of qualifications to head the Minerals Management Service. She is as ill-qualified as Mike Brown was to run FEMA. The sum total of her experience was as a Congressional staffer and as a lobbyist for American Rivers. This was as blatant a political appointment as anything that happened in the Bush Administration.

rockmom on May 28, 2010 at 1:15 PM

She’s Harvard Law. It appears that circumventing the law must be a required course.

huckleberryfriend on May 28, 2010 at 1:16 PM

Why is it,that members on Team Hopey,have to go on a five mile ride around the city,just to cross the street!

Its a a torturous kabuki strip pole verbal dance that
takes forever to answer the question,and of course,by
the time you get past a few minutes,your wondering,just
how long is this going to take!!!

canopfor on May 28, 2010 at 1:16 PM

Good riddance. She can be replaced with someone with more technical competance. Maybe a Bernadine Dorn?

seven on May 28, 2010 at 1:16 PM

The only thing missing from her performance was tap dancing shoes, a tutu, and a baton to twirl.

She was weaseling her fanny off.

Wind Rider on May 28, 2010 at 1:19 PM

Her departure from Federal employment made me smile. Too bad the rest of the bad apples couldn’t have followed her.

Next up: A visitation by some S.E.I.U. folks in her front yard? Or would they be competing for protest room from any number of environmental whacko groups from around the country?

itzWicks on May 28, 2010 at 1:20 PM

Sack.

Mason on May 28, 2010 at 1:23 PM

Every day I see this leak continue I am angry and frustrated as well. I realize that this entire response effort will continue to be filtered through the typical prism of politics, but that’s not what I care about right now. –President Barack Obama, May 27, 2010.

We’re just drowning in Obama “truth” these days.

RBMN on May 28, 2010 at 1:24 PM

Good riddance. She can be replaced with someone with more technical competance. Maybe a Bernadine Dorn?

seven on May 28, 2010 at 1:16 PM

Exactly. There’s a waiting list back in Chicago just full of incompetent toads that are beholden to President Pantload for something or another.

BigWyo on May 28, 2010 at 1:28 PM

Let me get this straight.

We want to hammer them because they got “astroturfed” into doing what we want, i.e. easing offshore drilling restrictions?

Doorgunner on May 28, 2010 at 1:41 PM

Birnbaum’s gone. Now Salazar must go.

petefrt on May 28, 2010 at 1:14 PM

What is disconserting to me is seemingly decent people are transformed (keyword) into the most duplictous deceptive micreants of truth upon entry into this administration. I remember Salazar’s run for office in CO, he was a nominally conservative, moderate Dem who appeared to shun being a partisan schill.

What is it with these Goombahs from Chicago that mere admittance into their inner sanctum so completely corrupts those admitted. I am not naive and being from Chicago and knowing full well the carachter of Team ‘O’ and understand the Corleone’esque nature of the politics they play, but their inheirent ability to infect any & all around them is something beyond my comprehension.

Archimedes on May 28, 2010 at 1:45 PM

Actually, I think this should lead to a perjury investigation against Birnbaum, at least if we’re using the minimalist “Scooter Libby” standards.

But I won’t waste my time waiting for Holder to get on this.

irishspy on May 28, 2010 at 1:46 PM

This probably isn’t perjury, but at the least it’s incompetence.

She outright lies, and misleads. And to Congress at that. I’d say it’s obvious perjury. But what do I know?! I’m just a simple citizen without benefit of a harvard degree. I’m to stupid to read a comment as in favor, or opposed to something. My God what is to become of this country with people like this running it?????

capejasmine on May 28, 2010 at 1:48 PM

Actually, I think this should lead to a perjury investigation against Birnbaum, at least if we’re using the minimalist “Scooter Libby” standards.

But I won’t waste my time waiting for Holder to get on this.

irishspy on May 28, 2010 at 1:46 PM

Well, if we take at least one piece of the legislature in November, you might not have to wait much past January to see some inquiry there…

bofh on May 28, 2010 at 1:56 PM

She was suggested to answer in that manner by Bill Clinton…

(It seems to work for everything else.)

Seven Percent Solution on May 28, 2010 at 2:14 PM

If it isn’t perjury it’s darn close. I suppose it depends on how you define perjury.

hachiban on May 28, 2010 at 2:22 PM

Don’t worry, it will all be better once government nazionalizes health care.

rbj on May 28, 2010 at 2:23 PM

The fact that her team could conclude a 2-1 “in favor” comment ratio means that they had no trouble determining the “sense” of the comments. The fact that she asserted that determining that sense was difficult was plainly not true. She lied. That’s perjury. And that’s the truth.

RationalIcthus on May 28, 2010 at 2:28 PM

Why wouldn’t it be perjury? She DID have a sense of the ratio of favorable to unfavorable comments. But instead of saying that, she said there was really no way to generalize.

hawksruleva on May 28, 2010 at 2:43 PM

I think it is clear the democrats will do anything to get what they want. The ends justify the means and what their ‘end’ is bad, very bad, for 95% of America.

jukin on May 28, 2010 at 3:03 PM

What is it with these Goombahs from Chicago that mere admittance into their inner sanctum so completely corrupts those admitted.
Archimedes on May 28, 2010 at 1:45 PM

Mafia Alinsky mentality? Ends justify means.

petefrt on May 28, 2010 at 3:25 PM

As I have been stating for over a year (and to all of my legislators) is that she is an RFK Jr. Crony in that she was head of American Rivers which has filed lawsuits to stop real progress.

Kermit on May 28, 2010 at 3:51 PM

Salazar also said that Birnbaum helped to address a “culture of corruption” in MMS.

Birnbaum: “Hello, Culture of Corruption. Any room on the bus?”

Culture of Corruption: “Why yes, yes there is. Welcome aboard.”

Mr. Pickles on May 28, 2010 at 4:17 PM

I once worked for a political research and consulting firm, and we conducted surveys and solicited comments on a number of issues while I was there. It is a simple matter to categorize responses, particularly if you are basically just looking for yea or nay.

Birnbaum lied, repeatedly.

novaculus on May 28, 2010 at 4:32 PM

Why do Democrats have the need to surround themselves with the ugliest women in the nation?

leftnomore on May 29, 2010 at 5:54 AM