The relationship between the Obama administration and Darrell Issa has never been good, but now it's devolved into accusations of dangerous leaks and criminal obstruction.
The Health and Human Services Department finally told Issa, the subpoena-happy chairman of the House Oversight Committee, that it was tired of him leaking sensitive documents to the press. HHS said it wouldn't turn over physical copies of documents related to Healthcare.gov's security measures because Issa has a habit of leaking things, according to Politico. But when the Obama administration told its security contractor not to respond to a subpoena, Issa saw it as an obstruction of justice. And it all sort of escalated from there, with a (Democratic) member of Issa's committee calling the group a "virtual revolving door of leaks and misinformation." The House oversight committee just announced that the contractor will comply with a subpoena for security files.
Who started it?
The Obama administration points out that the House oversight committee has leaked documents related to the "Fast and Furious" investigation and TSA security documents, according to Politico. And, on a more personal note, Issa was responsible for leaking the story that only six people signed up on Healthcare.gov on Day 1. That wasn't misinformation, but it was motivated by Issa's opposition to the law. He's subpoenaed Todd Park, the White House's chief technology officer, and other contractors.
Why did HHS snap only now?
Because this time it's really important that the documents don't leak. MITRE is the contractor hired by the government to assess Healthcare.gov's security risks. Issa and his committee have access to physical, redacted copies of the security test documents, and they were able to view the full documents but not keep them. But Issa wants the full, complete documents in his hands. So he subpoenaed MITRE. HHS told the company to just ignore Issa, which Issa didn't take well. MITRE recommended that Issa just subpoena HHS for the docs.
How mad was Issa?
Real mad. He wrote a letter to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that was a pretty saucy. He wrote that they were breaking the law by obstructing his investigation, aka not doing exactly what Issa wanted. This bit especially sticks out:
The Department's hostility towards questions from Congress and the media about the implementation of ObamaCare is well known. The Department's most recent effort to stonewall, however, has morphed from mere obstinacy into criminal obstruction of a congressional investigation.
Well, maybe HHS should just do what he wants?
On the one hand, yes. Issa argues that it sets a poor precedent for federal officials to ignore oversight requests for documents. That's true. And while Health and Human Services hasn't been hostile towards information requests, they have not been very forthcoming and transparent when it doesn't suit them. But then, if Issa has seen the documents, why does he need physical copies? According to Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, Issa has every intention of leaking the documents to the press "in a way that misrepresents them," as quoted in The Hill. He sent a letter to Issa on Friday with his concerns:
Since you became Chairman of the Committee in 2011, you and your staff have engaged in a reckless pattern of leaking sensitive information and documents to promote political narratives that turn out to be inaccurate after further investigation.
Cummings said Issa had turned the committee into a "virtual revolving door of leaks and misinformation," which is maybe a nicer way of saying a house of lies.
So what happens next?
MITRE talked to its lawyers and found that it “has no alternative but to comply with the terms of a Congressional subpoena absent some form of judicial intervention,” according to The Hill. Issa, in a statement, said that “MITRE’s decision is a rejection of efforts by the White House to obstruct oversight," though it sort of just seems like he bullied them. The question now is whether Health and Human Services was trying to hide more embarrassing glitches, or trying to keep the papers out of the hands of hackers. Given Issa's track record, we'll find out soon enough.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.