Obama administration stonewalling Issa on document demand?
posted at 12:15 pm on February 2, 2011 by Ed Morrissey
The epicenter of the Republican fight to roll back the expansion of executive power is at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — and we’re already starting to see fireworks. After taking the chair, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) requested that the Department of Homeland Security release a number of documents relating to policies and earlier testimony before Congress. So far, the response from the White House has been to ignore Issa, and Issa is none too pleased:
Yesterday, The Daily Caller reported that the Obama administration had snubbed top GOP oversight official Rep. Darrell Issa on his first major document deadline as new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sending a short letter promising to comply in response to a major information request that was due Saturday at noon.
But the next day, Issa’s two-week deadline expired.
Now Issa is hitting back with a forceful response that demands key documents by Thursday.
What happens if the DHS fails to comply by tomorrow? Issa may issue subpoenas for top officials to explain to his panel why they have failed to cooperate with Congressional oversight. The Democrats on the committee may try to block the subpoenas, but they will soon discover that ending up in the minority means losing control over that process, and a number of others as well.
Besides, that would only play into Issa’s hands. As his response indicates and the Daily Caller notes, Issa isn’t on a fishing expedition; someone at DHS, or perhaps several people, are informing him of real issues with their previous statements and conduct:
During the week of January 10th, my staff obtained material that called into question the statements supplied by the Department during the September briefing. …
While the Department has announced its intention to cooperate with the Committee, I was disappointed to learn that on or about January 20, 2011, DHS’s Office of General Counsel instructed career staff in the Privacy Office not to search for documents responsive to my request.
The pushback comes as a bit of a power play from ranking member Elijah Cummings, who vaulted over former chair Edolphus Towns and two other more senior Democrats to reach that position. Roll Call reports on Cummings’ attempts to justify his new position:
Tensions have flared between the California Republican and Maryland Democrat over the past month on everything from whether the minority will be allowed to provide opening statements at hearings and have input over subpoenas to whether Democrats will be allowed to call witnesses.
The battles have largely played out in letters between the two lawmakers and through the media. The latest salvo came earlier this week when Cummings tried to circumvent Issa by trying to obtain materials from industry groups that the chairman declined to immediately share with minority staff. …
While Issa has served as the top Republican on the panel since 2008, this is his first turn leading the committee. He has set an aggressive agenda: calling for hearings seven days a week while also moving to aggressively investigate Obama’s signature health care reform law and federal stimulus program.
Cummings is also feeling out his role as the leading Democrat on the committee. The veteran Marylander leapfrogged two more senior Members of his party, including former Chairman Edolphus Towns (N.Y.), for the ranking member slot. In taking on the job, Cummings tapped a seasoned investigative hand. Earlier this year, he brought on David Rapallo, the top attorney to Obama’s National Security Council, to be the Democratic staff director. Rapallo formerly served for 11 years as a minority subcommittee director for the committee, and later as chief investigative counsel for Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), who was then the panel’s top Democrat.
The White House has apparently decided to play along with Cummings in attempting to slow Issa’s charge into oversight of the Obama administration. However, the lack of responsiveness holds a great deal of political peril. If they continue to stonewall Issa, they could set some of their staff up for contempt of Congress charges, as well as paint themselves as opaque and defensive — and leave the distinct impression that they have something to hide. It’s early in Obama’s experience with split power in the Beltway, but so far, he’s off to a poor start.