By Ben Geman - 09/11/12 02:08 PM EDT
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) says House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is conducting his probe of federal green energy project loans with bullying tactics and November’s elections in mind.
Cummings, the panel’s top Democrat, sent Issa a letter Monday slamming a dozen subpoenas issued last week to current and former Energy Department employees and contractors, which included use of armed U.S. Marshals to serve subpoenas at the Energy Department (DOE).
“The committee's yearlong investigation has produced no evidence to support your claims of a ‘broad scandal’ of political favoritism in the Department's loan guarantee program. Nevertheless, it appears that the Committee is expanding and escalating its efforts directly ahead of the November election,” Cummings wrote.
Cummings’s letter lays out an array of complaints with the 12 subpoenas. Ten are for documents, and two are for depositions ordered to occur in the next two weeks by Brandon Hurlbut, who is Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s chief of staff, and Morgan Wright, the director of strategic initiatives at the DOE loan program, the letter states.
Cummings says the depositions violate committee rules that require the panel’s chairman to consult the ranking member before ordering depositions.
He says all 12 subpoenas are “inconsistent” with Issa’s pledges of consultation before issuing subpoenas. Cummings adds that if consulted, he would have objected to Issa’s tactics.
“I would have strongly opposed sending four armed U.S. Marshals into the Department of Energy to physically serve the subpoenas. There was absolutely no reason for this type of intimidation since the Department would have accepted the subpoenas by email, as it has done routinely in the past, including with our Committee,” he writes.
Cummings raises other objections about a probe that he noted has “identified no evidence of improper political favoritism.”
The letter cites late-August correspondence from DOE’s general counsel to Issa that expressed concern with phone calls to DOE employees from GOP committee staff with “threatening references to U.S. Marshals coming to their homes to serve subpoenas.”
DOE spokesman Damien LaVera also responded to the issuance of subpoenas.
"In addition to voluntarily providing more than 1 million pages of
documents to Congress, the Department has fully complied with the
Chairman's requests and provided all of the documents the Committee
requested from these Department officials prior to the Committee’s
baffling decision to issue subpoenas. No matter how hard some in
Congress are working to distort the record, the facts clearly
demonstrate that decisions on loan applications were made on the merits
after careful review by career officials and technical experts in the
loan program,” LaVera said.
Issa’s panel has been conducting a broad probe of the Energy Department program that issued a $535 million loan guarantee to the solar panel company Solyndra, which collapsed last year.
Some other loan-guarantee recipients have also faced bankruptcies and financial headwinds, but administration officials say the overall green energy loan portfolio has succeeded in creating jobs and boosting the use of renewable energy.
While the Energy and Commerce Committee took the lead on the Solyndra inquiry, Issa has taken a wider look at the embattled loan program.
His committee is examining the use of personal email accounts by some officials and allegations of political influence in loan decisions.
Cummings’s letter says Issa’s tactics are especially unnecessary because DOE has been “tremendously” cooperative with the panel’s probe, producing more than 600,000 pages of documents.
“Attempting to circumvent the Department's General Counsel's Office by pursuing employees directly has increased the sense of intimidation among these employees and forced them to hire private counsel at considerable expense,” the letter states.
Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Issa, called Cummings’s complaints “without merit.”
“Before the Obama administration took office, Oversight Committee Democrats actually investigated concerns about the use of non-official email accounts violating federal recordkeeping and transparency laws. Under the Obama administration, however, they've taken an anything-goes approach to such violations,” Hill said.
“The evidence shows that the use of non-official email accounts at the Department of Energy was part of an intentional and widespread effort to hide discussions about coordination with private-sector companies and interactions with the White House about loans to political supporters,” he said.
Hill also said that the decision was made to use the U.S. Marshals only after five DOE employees refused to be served via e-mail.
This post was updated at 10:46 a.m. and at 2:30 p.m.