Top GOP oversight official Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, is broadening the scope of his investigation into technology-related ethics and legal problems for the White House to include Google – a company in possession of personal e-mails of many White House aides.
In a July 9 letter, Issa asks Google to outline how it is storing the personal e-mails of key Obama administration officials and how the Mountain View, Calif., company plans to respond to federal subpoenas.
Republicans are threatening to take control of the House in November’s midterm elections, which would give Issa the authority to demand Google hand over the e-mails of White House aides.
That approach would likely be a last resort to working with the White House to discover whether the Obama administration is avoiding e-mail archiving requirements under federal law.
A Google spokeswoman said Monday, “We received Congressman Issa’s letter and we look forward to answering the Committee’s questions.”
Issa’s letter is his latest salvo in an ongoing campaign to uncover the truth about mounting evidence the Obama White House has flouted disclosure and archiving requirements under federal law.
At issue most recently are hundreds of meetings at a Caribou Coffee close to the White House between high-ranking administration officials and top K Street lobbyists. The meetings were reported by the New York Times on June 24.
The Times reported that the coffee-house lobbyist meetings were often initiated with e-mails from White House aides’ personal e-mail accounts – bypassing an archiving system – and appear geared towards hiding the meetings from being disclosed in a published list of visitors to the White House.
At issue legally is whether administration officials are conducting “official business” outside of record-keeping requirements in federal law. At issue ethically is an apparent attempt to hide from disclosure hundreds of lobbyist contacts by a White House that pledged to be the most transparent in history.
Issa and key watchdog groups have called for a formal congressional investigation. House oversight committee Chairman Edolphus Towns’s only response thus far was a tweet, later deleted, touting House passage of a law updating the Presidential Records Act.
In addition to the lobbyist meetings, the White House officially reprimanded one of its top technology officials, Andrew McLaughlin, in May for violating the president’s ethics pledge in communicating with his former employer and “inadvertently” bypassing e-mail archiving requirements.
While a spokesman claimed the breaches were isolated incidents a Daily Caller investigation revealed a cavalier attitude at the Obama White House toward longstanding safeguards designed to prevent abuses of the Presidential Records Act and other laws.
White House sources described a clash when Obama took the White House between a technology-savvy campaign culture and strict rules in the White House designed to protect the Presidential Records Act and other laws.
“A lot of new people came in [and] they were very hostile towards the career employees,” a White House source told TheDC. “Basically, you know, whenever they made a technical decision, maybe something related to some of the safeguards we had in place for presidential records, as an example, well somebody who was career might say, ‘This is sort of how we’ve been doing things,’ and the political would say, ‘Well, new game in town,’ sort of thing.”
Additionally, two sources said a top White House technology official, Chief Information Officer Brook Colangelo, routinely asked technology vendors for special deals based on his position as a public official.
“I heard the CIO talking to various technology vendors, saying … like, ‘You should give this to us for free because we’re the White House.’ And he actually said that to people,” one source said. A second source said Colangelo continued the practice even after having been confronted about its appropriateness.
Inside the White House, the use of personal iPhones and Blackberries is ubiquitous. Those personal phones could be used for legitimately private purposes such as letting a spouse know when one is coming home.
But evidence is mounting that top White House officials have been using their phones as a convenient way to e-mail lobbyists and others about policy issues – e-mails that should be preserved for the historical record under the Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act.
The problems are compounded by the claims on ethics and transparency Obama has made. As watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington noted in a letter to Towns, “Upon entering office, President Obama promised an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability in his administration.”