Issa: Obama ignoring Occupy DC to avoid 'political embarrassment'

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Friday charged the Obama administration with allowing Occupy DC protesters to remain illegally camped on federal ground in order to avoid political embarrassment.

In making the charge, Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, threw his weight behind District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray (D), who has also criticized the federal government over the camps. 

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“The public health and safety situation is in itself disturbing and the refusal to provide documents about the Park Service’s decision making leaves a lingering perception that long-standing prohibitions against encampments have been ignored to avoid a politically embarrassing situation for the administration,” Issa said in a statement released by his office.

Gray wrote a letter to the director of the National Park Service dated Jan. 12 that requests the federal agency "take immediate steps" to remedy what he calls a "dangerous situation" in the Occupy DC encampments. 

Occupy DC protesters, an outgrowth of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement, have been camped in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza in Washington since October. Both sites are under federal jurisdiction and the National Park Service has allowed protesters to remain as an expression of their right to free speech.

Gray cites several concerns with the ongoing situation.

“The most serious of these concerns include dangerous rat infestation as well as the serious potential for communicable disease, hypothermia, and food borne illness,” Gray wrote, citing recent inspections by health officials.

He also argues that the city should not be forced to cover costs of the encampment, because "decisions that led to these on-going camp sites were made entirely by the National Park Service." He notes that the city is still awaiting reimbursement for costs incurred to ensure peaceful protests in the past. 

The city is also braced for an upcoming protest scheduled for Jan. 17 on the National Mall. Dubbed "Occupy Congress," organizers expect thousands to gather.

Gray suggests moving the protesters out of McPherson Square in order to clean up and restore the park. Issa has previously expressed concern with damage of the park. In a letter to the Interior Department, Issa demanded to know why a federal agency — the National Park Service — allowed stimulus-funded improvements to McPherson Square to be damaged by illegal campers.

The department has not responded to Issa's request; his office noted their deadline is Jan. 24.

“Mayor Gray’s description of the conditions at the McPherson Square Occupy DC encampment is a blunt assessment of the situation created by the National Park Service’s decision to ignore laws designed to protect the public,” Issa wrote in the follow-up statement. “The city is trying its best to protect the health, welfare, and safety of people in and around the campsite. In this situation, the National Park Service has so far been more interested in making excuses than protecting the public.”