House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

House Republicans begin digging on Libya security failures

Libya hearing

Yesterday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committe held its first round on hearings over last month’s terrorist attack at the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya that took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and the subsequent cover-up.

House Republicans are looking to get to the bottom the security failures that aided terrorists in attacking the consulate and finding out why the White House and State Department initially blamed the anti-Islamic video, “Innocence of Muslims,” for the incident. In case you haven’t read anything about the hearing, things got a little testy.

Eli Lake, who has contributed some excellent reporting on aftermath of the attack and cover-up, has a great breakdown of the hearing:

The star witness for Republicans at Wednesday’s hearing on the assault on the consulate in Benghazi said he twice urged the State Department to keep an elite diplomatic security team in Libya, but was denied each time. The team, a group of soldiers attached to the national guard, left the country in August.

In his testimony, Eric Nordstrom, the top U.S. diplomatic security official in Libya until the end of June, was at times harshly critical of his superiors at State. His tone differed from his prepared remarks, which appeared more measured, and which he said were written with the help of guidelines from the State Department. In those remarks, he said the vast majority of his requests for security resources were “considered seriously and fastidiously.

Federal judge orders Eric Holder to turn over a list Fast and Furious documents to a House committee

A federal judge has delivered a blow to the White House and the Justice Department’s attempt to keep information related to Operation Fast and Furious out of the hands of members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Although she didn’t order the release of the documents themselves, Judge Amy Berman Jackson did order Attorney General Eric Holder’s department to send a list of the documents to the committee:

Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the Justice Department must provide the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee with a list of documents — but not the documents themselves — withheld on the gunrunning operation.

The agency has until Oct. 1 to turn over the documents, Jackson said during a status hearing.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight panel, cheered the ruling.

“This administration has been so intent on hiding the contents of these documents that it allowed Attorney General Holder to be held in contempt instead of just turning them over to Congress,” Issa said. “The privilege log will bring us closer to finding out why the Justice Department hid behind false denials in the wake of reckless conduct that contributed to the violent deaths of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and countless Mexican citizens.”

Ending the politicization of the IRS: A new House report recommends nixing the tax agency commissioner’s job

More than a year after the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups became public knowledge, a key House committee has made a long list of recommendations to end the politicization of the powerful federal tax agency.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a report, Making Sure Targeting Never Happens: Getting Politics Out of the IRS and Other Solutions, on Tuesday that outlines 15 proposals to reform the IRS, protect Americans’ free speech and privacy rights, and much more.

“As the Committee continues its comprehensive investigation into IRS targeting of Americans for their political beliefs, both immediate and long-term reforms are needed to prevent such targeting from ever happening again,” Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) said in a press release. “We must make structural changes to improve internal oversight and get politics out of the IRS. The current imbalance of IRS power over taxpayers must cede to a system that recognizes and protects the rights of taxpayers.”

The Committee proposes that the IRS commissioner post, currently held by John Koskinen, be replaced with a multi-member, bipartisan commission, which, the report says, would bring much-needed checks and balances to the agency. The IRS commissioner is currently appointed by the president and subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Cronyism: White House advisor intervened to expand Obamacare’s health insurance bailout to limit dramatic premium increases

Barack Obama and Valerie Jarrett

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has uncovered correspondence between White House advisor Valerie Jarrett and a health insurance company executive after he gave a “heads-up” that the Obamacare bailout wouldn’t be enough to avoid the “unwelcome surprise” of higher than expected premium increases.

Chet Burrell, President and CEO of Care First Blue Cross Blue Shield, reached out to Jarrett on April 4 at 10:20 am to bring the issue to her attention. Katherine Branch, the White House advisor’s assistant, replied less than 30 minutes later to ask if he was available to talk to Jarrett later that afternoon.

Burrell and Jarrett apparently had that little chat. He followed up the next day with a summary of the issue he talked with her about. The document attached in the email expressed concern over the budget neutrality of Obamacare’s “risk corridor” program, known to many as the insurer “bailout.”

The risk corridor program guarantees payments from the from the federal government to insurers if the risk pool isn’t properly balanced with the young and healthy people who are intended to offset the costs of sick and unhealthy consumers. The payments come from a fund into which insurers contribute, and it was originally scored as budget-neutral, meaning that there wouldn’t be any cost to taxpayers.

Given the unlikelihood of many insurers contributing to the program due to unbalanced risk pools, Burrell suggested that insurance premiums would rise, and spark a negative public reaction, unless the administration was willing to “clarify” (read: provide more funding) the bailout rule.

Hypocrites: House Democrats only want transparency and government oversight when a Republican is in the White House

Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee aren’t even trying anymore to pretend like they care about the White House’s lack of transparency. They’ve long defended the Obama administration from scandals, often appearing like they don’t care that the White House tried sell a lie to Americans about Benghazi or that the IRS targeted organizations simply because of their political views.

But a lesser controversy brought out a revealing admission from a couple of Democrats on the House’s primary oversight committee.

During a Friday hearing on alleged violations of the Hatch Act by the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, Delegate Eleanor Norton Holmes (D-DC) blasted her Republican colleagues on the committee for trying to get to the bottom of this latest controversy.

Holmes is upset that Republicans have subpoenaed David Simas, director the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, to testify over the use of a taxpayer-funded government office for partisan political activity. The White House, however, has refused to comply, absurdly and arrogantly claiming executive privilege. Simas has missed the two recent Oversight hearings on the matter.

“I agree that there are circumstances where you don’t need wrongdoing, but you need a predicate for a subpoena. You need more than a fishing expedition,” Norton complained. “You don’t have a right to know everything in a separation of powers government, my friend. That is the difference between a parliamentary government and a separation of powers government.”

Clown show at the IRS: Tax agency chief now says they’ve found the backup tapes he previously claimed they didn’t have

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen was just kidding, guys. The federal agency he oversees totally has those backup tapes that he previously told House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had been recycled. But whether or not Lois Lerner’s emails are on them remains to be seen:

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, testifying before a House oversight subcommittee, stressed that he does not know “how they found them” or “whether there’s anything on them or not.” But he said the inspector general’s office advised him the investigators are reviewing tapes to see if they contain any “recoverable” material.

The revelation is significant because the IRS claimed, when the agency first told Congress about the missing emails, that backup tapes “no longer exist because they have been recycled.”

It is unclear whether the tapes in IG custody contain any Lerner emails, but Koskinen said investigators are now checking.

The latest revelation in the IRS comes just days after the House Oversight and Government Reform released testimony from Thomas Kane, the IRS official in charge document compliance, who suggested that the backup tapes containing Lerner’s emails may not have been recycled after all.

IRS can’t get its story straight: Official says he’s not sure whether email backup tapes were destroyed

 Tax agency official says he's unsure whether backup tapes with Lerner emails were destroyed

The Internal Revenue Service just can’t get its story straight as to whether or not Lois Lerner’s emails are still recoverable. Commissioner John Koskinen told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the emails were lost and could not be recovered before Lerner’s attorney suggested that she may still have hardcopies of some of her records.

Now, according to testimony released by the committee, the IRS official who complies with document request from Congress says that the backup tapes on which Lerner emails are stored could still be lying around somewhere:

IRS deputy associate chief counsel Thomas Kane, who oversees the tax-collecting agency’s document production to Congress, told the House Oversight Committee in private testimony that he’s now unsure if the correspondence is backed up somewhere else.

“I don’t know if there is a backup tape with information on it or there isn’t,” he told investigators Thursday, according to a partial transcript released by Oversight Republicans on Monday.
[…]
“There is an issue as to whether or not there is a — that all of the backup recovery tapes were destroyed on the six-month retention schedule,” he said.

Arrogant Obama White House refuses committee subpoena seeking testimony from official over violations of federal law

The Hatch Act explicitly states that federal officials cannot use government (i.e. taxpayer-funded) offices to engage in partisan political activity. But the White House may have violated this federal law earlier this year when it reopened the Office of Political Affairs under the name “White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach.”

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has pointed to a January 2014 New York Times article which made note of the motives for reviving the Office of Political Affairs, which had been dormant for three years, quoting White House officials on background (emphasis added):

[W]ith Mr. Obama in his second term and crucial midterm elections ahead, the White House seems eager to send a new message: that it is serious about defending Democratic control of the Senate and taking back the House from Republicans. White House officials said it makes more sense to have a political office during a congressional election year to focus attention on candidate needs, including fund-raising.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have criticized Mr. Obama’s White House for not being attuned to their political concerns. The problem-plagued rollout of the HealthCare.gov website last year was the latest example of the lawmakers’ frustration over the impact of White House actions on their election-year prospects.

And there it is: U.S. Archivist says the IRS did not follow the law when it failed to notify them of missing Lois Lerner emails

U.S. Archivist David Ferriero stopped short of saying that the Internal Revenue Service broke the law this morning, but he says that the powerful tax agency “did not follow the law” when it failed to report the destruction of emails on Lois Lerner’s hard-drive.

Ferriero was one of the witnesses that appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for the second-part of the hearing into the missing Lerner emails. He was asked by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) if the IRS reported the loss of any documents related to Lerner, to which Ferriero said, “No.”

Though Ferriero demurred when asked if the IRS broke the law, explaining that he isn’t a lawyer, but he was clear that the IRS failed to follow the Federal Records Act, which the National Archives and Records Administration is charged with overseeing.

“If they didn’t follow it,” Walberg said, “can we safely assume they broke the law?”

“They did not follow the law,” Ferriero replied.

Watch Trey Gowdy’s awesome take down of the IRS commissioner over the his poor response to the targeting of conservative groups

Trey Gowdy

There were plenty of epic moments at last night’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, but Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) probably won the evening.

The committee wanted answers from Koskinen about why he and his agency haven’t been able to produce emails written by and sent to disgraced official Lois Lerner between January 2009 and April 2011. Republicans on the committee grilled the IRS chief while Democrats largely gave him a pass.

But Gowdy, a former prosecutor, thundered away at Koskinen, explaining to him that the fact that the emails are missing infers that they were going to be bad news for the IRS, which, as the South Carolina Republican explains, is called “spoliation of evidence.”

“When a party has a duty to preserve evidence, or records, and they fail to do so, there is a negative inference that is drawn from their failure to preserve the evidence,” Gowdy told Koskinen. “It’s common sense, right? If you destroyed something, the jury has a right to infer that whatever you destroyed would not have been good for you, or else every litigate would destroy whatever evidence was detrimental to them.”

Gowdy also went after Koskinen for saying that he’s “no evidence of wrongdoing” while also admitting that he hasn’t reviewed the criminal statutes to make that determination. “How would you know what elements of the crime existed?” Gowdy fired back at the IRS commissioner. “You don’t even know what statues are at play.”

Grab some popcorn and watch the video below:


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