Rep. Issa threatens contempt for EPA

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House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Wednesday threatened to hold the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in contempt of Congress if officials fail to turn over subpoenaed communications with the White House.

The EPA has not provided Issa with the documents requested in November, nor has it asserted executive privilege over them.

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“The subpoena calls for you to deliver the documents. You have not done so,” Issa told EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy at a hearing. “Are you prepared to deliver the documents or provide an item-by-item privilege log of executive privilege?”

McCarthy didn’t respond directly, instead telling Issa that her staff has provided the committee with documents she believes answer its questions.

“I am informing you today that it is my intention to hold the Environmental Protection Agency in contempt,” Issa continued. “I will schedule a business meeting to do so on the first business day available for this committee.”

Issa did not say whether McCarthy herself would be the subject of the contempt vote or if any other officials would be charged. He said he would schedule a meeting on the vote Wednesday if McCarthy continued to withhold the documents.

If the Oversight Committee votes to hold an official in contempt, the resolution then moves to the full House, which can refer the matter to Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, for possible prosecution.

If the House approves charges against McCarthy, it would be the third time members have held an Obama administration official in contempt. Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt in 2012, as was former IRS official Lois Lerner in May.

Issa is investigating the EPA after GOP lawmakers questioned whether the White House was telling the agency which documents it should provide to the Oversight panel in other investigations, including an inquiry into former EPA official John Beale, who falsely claimed to be a CIA agent for years while stealing pay and travel expenses.

The committee sent a subpoena in November asking for all EPA communications with the Executive Office of the President for five years. Alternatively, the committee wanted the EPA to declare, item by item, which communications cannot be turned over.

“You’re back here today, because in fact no compliance with this has happened, and no executive privilege has been claimed and no log has been produced,” Issa told McCarthy.

McCarthy said that earlier Wednesday her staff presented documentation to the committee that shows the White House did not interfere with requests.

“You know we’ve worked hard to recognize the interests of this committee in ensuring that there is no White House interference in the work between us and delivering documents that you required,” she said.

“We have provided an accommodation which we have actually shared with your staff this morning, and we’re working to make sure that that matches your needs so that we can avoid the institutional problems with the requests that you made, and hopefully move on to continue our work together,” McCarthy added.

She did not say whether the requested documents fall under executive privilege

Democrats slammed the subpoena, with Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) calling Issa’s request a “fishing expedition.”

“I thought I heard you say earlier to the chairman that the subpoena in question subpoenaed all communications regarding congressional inquiries between the White House and EPA for the last five years,” he said. “Generally, when nets are that wide, what’s been going on is called a fishing expedition.”

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said the EPA has been extremely cooperative with the committee’s investigations, having provided thousands of documents so far.

“I believe all that suggests that you are a very compliant witness, that you’ve been very accommodating to this committee, and for members to throw around the threat of contempt ... is without merit,” she told McCarthy.