House Panel Expands Probe of Information Requests

February 1, 2011 - 7:41 PM

Washington (AP) - The new Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee cited discrepancies Tuesday between internal government documents and statements by a senior political adviser in the Homeland Security Department about how the government responded to requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act from citizens, journalists and others.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said he intends to interview the adviser, Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan, and other political appointees as part of a widening investigation into the department's practice of sidetracking hundreds of requests for federal records to top political advisers, who wanted information about those requesting the materials. In some cases the release of documents considered politically sensitive was delayed, according to more than 1,000 pages of e-mails obtained last year by The Associated Press.

Callahan met in September with congressional investigators, months after AP's reporting on the case, and assured them that the government was not inappropriately interfering with requests for records. Issa said Callahan's assurances and a pending review by the Homeland Security inspector general's office persuaded him to put his investigation on hold, until new materials that Issa obtained weeks ago raised further questions. Issa did not describe the new materials in his letter Tuesday. The inspector general's audit has not yet been made public.

"The discrepancies between Ms. Callahan's statements during that briefing and what the documents show required committee staff to spend much more time and resources uncovering the truth than would have been otherwise necessary," Issa wrote in his letter Tuesday to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

A Homeland Security Department spokeswoman, Amy Kudwa, said Tuesday that the agency will continue to cooperate with Issa and provide documents he requested. In a letter to Issa last week, Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Nelson Peacock said the department's "practices are fully consistent with the language and spirit of the Freedom of Information Act" and were fully reviewed by agency lawyers.

In the letter, Issa asked within three days for copies of records the department provided to the AP last year during its investigation and for e-mails on the subject exchanged with the White House. Issa also said he intends to interview Callahan and other political appointees starting Feb. 7.

The congressional investigation into President Barack Obama's promises to improve government transparency is among the earliest by Republicans since they won control in the House. It targets a pledge that was among the first that Obama made after he moved into the White House.