Report Accuses Obama DHS of Witness Tampering and Attempted Document Theft

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A key congressional committee accused the Obama Department of Homeland Security of non-cooperation, witness tampering and even attempted theft of committee documents. The report claims that DHS Attorney Reid Alan Cox attempted to leave a committee hearing room with the Committee’s exhibits in his bag.
FOX News reported:

A key congressional committee on oversight is accusing the Department of Homeland Security of non-cooperation, witness tampering and even attempted theft of committee documents.

The 152-page report comes on the eve of hearings on transparency about DHS by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The accusations were met with a swift condemnation from a DHS spokesman, who accused Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., of reaching conclusions before the hearing got under way.‬

‪”While the Committee’s report spends a good deal of space making allegations of politicization and obstruction, the facts simply do not support these claims. Ironically, the report itself is full of selective omissions and redactions that appear to have been made to support these allegations,”‬ said DHS spokesman Amy Kudwa.

The Oversight Committee released the report on their website yesterday.

The report’s findings include:
Senior Political Appointees reviewed and approved responses.
By the end of September 2009, copies of all significant FOIA requests were required to be forwarded to the Secretary’s political staff for review. The career staff in the FOIA Office was not permitted to release responses to these requests without approval from political staff.

Political appointees do not acknowledge the approval process.
Political appointees refused to acknowledge that approval from the Secretary’s political staff was required to release a response to a significant FOIA request as of September 29, 2009. Their position during transcribed interviews was that the policy was implemented for awareness purposes only. Documents show this position is indefensible.

Political appointees conduct their own searches.
Documents and witness testimony show political appointees run weak and incomplete searches for their own documents. They were allowed to choose their own search terms despite lacking basic understanding of the statute.

The Department abused the (b)(5) exception.
Original versions of documents that were heavily redacted before being released to the Associated Press show the Office of General Counsel relied on exception (b)(5) – normally meant to protect pre-decisional records– to prevent the release of embarrassing records.

The Secretary’s political staff stopped using e-mail.
Political appointees stopped using e-mail to clear response packages in the second quarter of 2010. Instead, they contacted the career staff in the FOIA Office by telephone.

The Secretary’s political staff marginalized and mismanaged the career FOIA staff.
The intrusion of the political staff into the FOIA process wasted the time and resources of the Privacy Office. The deterioration of the relationship between the Front Office and the FOIA Office was accelerated by constant changes to the significant FOIA response process. The constantly-evolving process and burdensome questions from the Secretary’s political staff delayed responses.

The report also explains how lawyers of the Department’s Office of the General Counsel worked to obstruct the committee’s investigation. For example:

And here’s more on the attempted theft by DHS Attorney Reid Cox of committee documents.

After a witness interview on March 4, 2011, a Department lawyer attempted to remove Committee documents from the interview room. DHS Attorney Reid Cox attempted to leave the room with the Committee’s exhibits in his bag. Committee staff asked Cox if he had the exhibits in his bag, and he confirmed that he did. Cox was admonished by Republican and Democratic staff that he was not permitted to leave with the exhibits. Democratic staff advised Cox that the exhibits are Committee documents and as such, they are the property of the Committee and cannot be removed without permission. Cox explained that the Department disagreed with that position and he moved toward the door. Republican staff advised Cox to leave the exhibits and contact the Committee to discuss the matter. Cox had a counter-proposal: “How about I take the exhibits, and you call me?” While Cox ultimately left the documents, any attempt to steal Committee documents is a serious matter. If the motive for stealing Committee documents is to use them to conduct a forensic investigation to identify a Committee source, it creates an extremely sensitive situation.

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