TheDC Exclusive – The Obama administration 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 Issa is hitting back Tuesday with a demand key documents be sent in two days.
The Obama snub is the first sign of how the administration will respond to demands for documents and testimony by key officials from Republicans in control of the House now that the GOP holds the power of congressional subpoena.
A Jan. 28 letter from the Department of Homeland Security promised to cooperate with Issa’s document request sent Jan. 14 – but Issa’s deadline for the documents expired the next day.
“I asked DHS to produce this information by Jan. 29 – two weeks from the date of my second letter,” Issa says in his Feb. 1 reply to the deadline snub, “The department gave no indication that it would not be able to comply with the deadline.”
Further, Issa charges that top DHS officials actually instructed career employees not to search for the documents he is requesting.
“I was disappointed to learn that on or about Jan. 20, 2011, DHS’s Office of General Counsel instructed career staff in the Privacy Office not to search for documents responsive to my request,” Issa says in the Feb. 1 letter.
Issa is requesting documents from DHS about political interference with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the agency.
In July, the Associated Press reported top DHS officials told career employees to steer sensitive FOIA requests to Obama’s political advisers for unusual scrutiny.
FOIA requests by lawmakers, watchdog groups and journalists were subjected to the special political reviews.
In his response to the deadline snub, Issa demands a set of key documents in two days, including e-mails between key DHS officials and the Obama White House.
Issa says the e-mails should be easy to find because all White House staff use similar e-mail addresses.
“As you know, e-mail to and from the White House is identifiable by the handle ‘@who.eop.gov’,” Issa says.
Further, Issa requests transcribed interviews with six top DHS officials about the issue, including Noah Kroloff, chief of staff to DHS Sec. Janet Napolitano. The interviews are set to begin the week of Feb. 7.
The Jan. 28 response from DHS to the document request says the agency is “in the process of retrieving other responsive documents” besides those already disclosed by the agency, which it says include “over a thousand pages of documents” and briefings to lawmakers including Issa.
But Issa says in his response to the deadline snub, “That statement is misleading. To date, DHS has produced six pages of documents and provided one briefing to this committee.”
In July, DHS published 1,051 pages of documents related to its FOIA process on its website. Issa says in his letter these documents are “heavily redacted” and requests unredacted copies by Feb. 3. An Issa spokesman notes the documents were not released to the committee.
Several passages of the letter appear to indicate Issa is receiving information on potential impropriety at DHS from someone inside the agency.
For instance, Issa mentions that “during the week of Jan. 10, 2011, my staff obtained material that called into question the statements supplied by the Department during” a September briefing on the issue.
Additionally, Issa includes his charge that career employees were instructed not to search for documents responsive to his request.
Bobby Whithorne, a DHS spokesman, defended the agency’s record on FOIA when contacted Monday about whether DHS met the weekend deadline.
“The Department responded directly to Chairman Issa last week. Our record is clear, under this Administration, the Department has reduced the FOIA backlog by 84%, released over 138,000 FOIA requests in the past year, the most of any federal agency, and substantially reduced the amount of time it takes to process FOIA requests,” Whithorne said.