House Dems Block White House Witness in Google Email Breach

Fri, Jul 23, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Google logoThe effort by House Republicans to investigate email practices at the White House hit a wall yesterday, when a motion to subpoena the White House deputy chief technology officer was blocked by Democrats during a House Oversight subcommittee hearing.

    Subcommittee Ranking Member Patrick McHenry (R-NC) demanded a recorded vote on a motion to subpoena White House technology officer Beth Noveck, after saying that the absence of a White House witness “undermines the purposes of the hearing and prevents us from doing our job of conducting oversight of this issue.”

    Chairman Lacy Clay (D-MO) immediately called an unexpected recess, and members sat waiting for 15 minutes before the subcommittee reconvened.

    The vote on the motion to subpoena was then defeated.

    Republicans on the Oversight Committee are investigating why White House deputy web chief Andrew McLaughlin was in contact with former coworkers at Google from his personal Gmail account. In the emails, McLaughlin discussed many of Google’s high priority lobbying issues, including FTC rules on online privacy, the administration broadband policy, net neutrality and intellectual property rules. House Republicans claim that the conversations over private email were in violation of federal ethics and recordkeeping rules, such as the Presidential Records Act.

    At the hearing, a consumer watchdog testified that he believed the White House was too cozy with Google, and the company’s lobbying interests. “I do think that Google specifically has perhaps too close a relationship with the government,” said John Simpson, director of the Stem Cell Project. “I think Mr. McLaughlin’s appointment is one of those ties that are inappropriate.”

    The White House has argued that McLaughlin’s violation of the rules was unintentional, and the web chief was reprimanded for the incidents in May.

    Thursday’s hearing had been originally scheduled for June 24, and was supposed to include testimony by technology officer Novek, but it was postponed after Democrats learned committee Republicans were planning to grill Novek about alleged violations of recordkeeping rules. Novek did not appear at the rescheduled hearing.

    At the hearing, Rep. McHenry slammed the Democrats for obstructing the subpoena of technology officer Noveck, and said that subcommittee Democrats were “trying to protect one White House witness from even answering questions about their record keeping.”

    Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has been championing the inquiry into the use of personal email by White House officials, commended Rep. McHenry’s motion to subpoena Novek, in a Thursday press release.

    “Ranking Member McHenry was right to hold the majority accountable for trying to give the Obama Administration a free pass on violations of record keeping laws as a result of communicating with lobbyists through personal e-mails,” said Rep. Issa. “Just two years ago, Democrats expressed outrage about Presidential Records Act violations under the Bush Administration while saying they were serious about efforts to address problems.  Under the Obama Administration, they now appear more than willing to offer the Obama White House a free pass on violations.”

    Rep. Issa has been pressing Google to release information on its email retention policy. In a July 9 letter, the congressman asked Google director Michael Bradshaw to identify Google’s record retention rules, including how long emails are retrievable after being deleted by a user, Google’s policy for complying with subpaoenas and whether the White House contacted the company about the retention of emails by White House personnel covered under federal records acts.

    Rep. Issa requested Bradshaw’s response by July 20, but according to the congressman’s office there has been no reply.

    Alana Goodman is NLPC’s Capitol Hill Reporter.

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