Administration: Issa can’t be trusted

Greg Nash

The Obama administration on Thursday escalated its feuding with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), telling him he cannot have physical copies of ObamaCare security documents because he might leak them.

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Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has requested copies of six reports prepared by a contractor that outline security vulnerabilities with the ObamaCare enrollment portal HealthCare.gov.

In an letter sent Thursday, the administration argues that because of Issa's history of selective leaks to the media, he can't be trusted with the materials.

"The committee's unwillingness to commit to undertake measures to address the security risks associated with further disclosure is troubling, particularly in light of reports that sensitive materials were disclosed through various investigations," wrote Jim Esquea, the assistant secretary for legislation at the Health and Human Services Department (HHS).

Issa's office blasted back on Thursday and accused the White House of overreaching in advising the contractor who prepared the report to not respond to the subpoena.

"It's an unacceptable violation of law and a dangerous precedent for any administration to tell a private company not to respond to a lawful subpoena," Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said.

At issue is a subpoena issued by Issa to MITRE, a contractor working to assess security issues with the ObamaCare website.

The administration has already allowed Oversight staffers to review the reports in a secure room, but is refusing to turn over physical copies.

Esquea says that the information contained in the documents "could be used to hack the system" and that they "may pose a risk to the confidentiality of consumer information accessible through healthcare.gov."

“As we have explained through staff discussions and in our prior correspondence, these documents are highly sensitive in light of the substantial harm that could result if the information contained in them were accessed by determined actors seeking to compromise the security and functioning of the website,” Esquea said.

Esquea said the administration is willing to make the documents available to outside security experts who can independently testify that their disclosure would create a security risk to the ObamaCare website.

The White House has publicly and privately fumed over Issa's document releases during his tenure heading the Oversight Committee. They say Issa has routinely disclosed sensitive or classified information in the course of politically charged investigations.

Earlier this month, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he was "confident" that the "dribs and drabs of information" provided by Issa to reporters about HealthCare.gov only "partially reflect what’s happening at CMS and HHS."

Democrats have also highlighted instances in recent years where Issa released sensitive materials related to ongoing investigations.

The executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington accused Issa last year of inserting material from a sealed warrant into the congressional record while investigating the "Fast and Furious" gun-walking operation.

In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security complained when sensitive information on the Transportation Security Administration provided to the committee was disclosed to the press.

In a letter to the committee earlier this month, MITRE said they had provided redacted versions of the report, and would also be willing to allow review of unredacted versions in a secure facility.

"I believe this responds to the committee's interest while also allowing MITRE to properly discharge our obligation to the government as a custodian of sensitive information potentially affecting the privacy interests of all Americans," MITRE CEO Alfred Grasso said in a letter to Issa.

Grasso goes on to say that the reports were produced under contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and suggests Issa should attempt to gain copies by subpoenaing the department. 

— This story was updated at 6:45 p.m.