Rep. Issa asks Obama official why illegal camping of Occupy DC was permitted

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Tuesday announced he wants answers on whether “political judgments played a role” in allowing Occupy D.C. protesters to remain camped in Northwest Washington.

Issa, chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter dated Monday to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar requesting any communication between the Department of Interior and the White House regarding the Occupy D.C. protests.

In the letter, Issa also asked Salazar “to explain a series of agency decisions that allowed protesters to stay in tents at the park for extended periods of time despite a ban on ‘camping,’” according to a news release from Issa’s office.

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Occupy DC protesters, an outgrowth of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement that began in Manhattan, have been camping in McPherson Square, in Northwest Washington, for more than two months. The National Park Service (NPS), an agency of the DOI, prohibits camping in the square, but allows 24-hour protests. Issa is seeking answers on the apparent discrepancy. 

“The protesters camping in McPherson Square appear to be in violation of the law and the NPS could have legally required them to stop and remove their tents,” Issa wrote in the letter. “The NPS has an obligation to the American people to explain the decisions that were made regarding the Occupy D.C. protesters in McPherson Square.”

According to Issa’s letter, much of the square’s $400,000 in stimulus-funded improvements have been “damaged or destroyed” by the protesters. The improvements, concluded this past spring, included new grass, concrete curbs, refurbished benches, new light poles, water fountains, new paint, new chain fencing, 12 new trash cans and new light meters, according to the letter.

“While the merits of this stimulus funding are debatable, we can all agree that once the federal government invested the funds, no government agency should have allowed it to be damaged or destroyed when it legally could have been prevented,” Issa wrote.

U.S. Park Police arrested several protesters who refused to take down a wood structure built in the park earlier in the month. Following the police removal of the illegal structure, Occupy D.C. obtained a court order prohibiting a surprise eviction from the park before Jan. 31. Mayor Vincent Gray has taken a hands-off approach to the protesters, in comparison to other cities nationwide that have evicted protesters from long-term occupations in city squares and in front of city halls.

The political response has been divided. Many Republicans voiced concern over the protests, which have become violent in some cities, while Democrats including President Obama initially seemed to embrace the movement. Politicians on both sides have said the Occupy protesters are voicing a genuine concern over the economy and the greed demonstrated by some on Wall Street.

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On Monday, Occupy D.C. protesters were barred from entering the headquarters of the Democratic and Republican national committees to deliver a “declaration.” Last week, more than 60 protesters were arrested for blocking traffic on K Street in Northwest Washington, a street known for housing numerous lobbying firms. Members of Occupy D.C. have previously staged protests in the lobbies of Senate and House office buildings on Capitol Hill.

Occupy D.C. hunger strikers planned to visit Issa’s congressional office Tuesday morning to advocate for D.C. voting rights.

“We support their right, of course, to exercise their First Amendment right. But at the same time we will not tolerate the breaking of the law,” Gray said last weekend, according to NBC Washington. “People are increasingly losing their patience because of the infringement on business, as they see it, here in the city.”

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