In high-stakes poker game with Darrell Issa, Janet Napolitano passes again

What did top GOP oversight official Rep. Darrell Issa know, and when did he know it?

That’s the question Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Janet Napolitano must be asking herself after the California Republican, who is chairman of the House oversight committee,  showed a couple of aces in their high-stakes oversight poker game on Tuesday.

Their game is not exactly on the level. Issa has a whistleblower at the DHS giving him an inside edge on every move. And uncertainty over what he knows may be why the agency is snubbing Issa on his document deadlines.

Thursday, Napolitano missed Issa’s second deadline, one made in response to her unceremoniously missing the original one.

Last Friday, a top Napolitano lieutenant sent Issa a short letter promising to comply “expeditiously,” only to let the deadline expire the next day.

Experts say it was a pretty big brush off.

“You don’t call up the committee one day before the deadline and tell them for the first time that you’re going to miss it,” said Adam Goldberg, a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and veteran of the oversight wars during the Clinton administration, when he served as a counsel to the president.

“I think that’s kind of irresponsible by the agency,” said Don Goldberg, a former special assistant to Bill Clinton who managed that administration’s response to Travel-gate, the FBI’s siege of Waco and other crises. “I would think the agency would want to get out of his crosshairs.”

So what’s Napolitano thinking? Is DHS suffering from a steep learning curve after two years of almost no oversight by congressional Democrats?

“I suspect it’s just taking some time to get organized,” said Democratic strategist Paul Begala.

“I assume the problem is bureaucratic confusion…people are probably learning the ropes of congressional investigations,” said Adam Goldberg.

Another view is the Obama administration is sizing up the new GOP majority. Victories on Election Day gave Republicans the power of congressional subpoena, granting virtually unlimited authority to demand documents and compel testimony by key officials.

“In missing this deadline, the administration is saying ‘we’re not going to make this easy, we’re not going to roll over. You’re gonna have to work for these documents.’ Ultimately they’ll turn them over,” said Mark Paoletta, a partner at Dickstein Shapiro who managed nearly 200 oversight hearings for Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

But the key behind DHS’s seemingly flippant response could be documents Issa already has.

Issa “obtained documents from an unnamed career employee that called into question statements made at the September briefing” by DHS Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan, a committee spokesman said.

At the September briefing, Callahan ardently assured Issa nothing was awry with the DHS FOIA process after the Associated Press reported sensitive information requests – those from lawmakers, watchdog groups, and reporters — were subjected to unusual scrutiny by Obama’s political advisers.

Napolitano, in responding to Issa’s requests now, has to tread carefully. Her agency already misled Issa once, either by accident or design. What does he know? And what documents does he have?

  • pairofpants

    She is kind of a jack-booted thug. Maybe she could seek employment in eastern Europe. As Arizona governor, she was an utter failure.

    1. She’s NEVER DONE anything significant on the border, while declaring herself “tough on the border”. It’s been 5 YEARS of LIP SERVICE. Currently, she’s touting an INTERNATIONAL multi-agency approach to enforcement, as a front for her open border agenda.

    2. She single-handedly destroyed our fiscal year 2006, 2007, and 2008 budgets, and established an un-workable all-day day care dream. It’s since been scrap piled.

    3. She has no respect for working people. When our main gas supply line to Phx broke in the desert, she proclaimed, “Don’t bore me with the engineering, just fix it!” That’s her style of leadership.

    4. She drop kicked established historical society procedure and Arizona’s rich history and culture by whimsically re-naming a mountain, by “executive order”.

    5. She held a press conference once with no press in the room, just a camera and lights.

    6. She would hide from the public, while her minions pushed an ad campaign declaring her “Arizona’s most accessible Governor ever”!

    Someone should write a book….

  • CommentingID

    Issa should be booted out. Indicted for car theft, suspected of arson and fraud and people vote this guy into office?


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  • VivaLaMigra

    I hope Darrell has the Goods on this Bay-itch. Would she resign rather than be caught lying to Congress? As for the wistleblower, I hope he’s well hidden..Crappy Nappy probably has a Hit Squad looking for him.

  • bflat879

    It’s easy to be ethical when no one is looking. Let’s see what the most transparent, ethical administration in history does when the lights come on.