By Jonathan Easley - 12/13/13 11:53 AM EST
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Friday said House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has displayed a “reckless pattern” of leaking confidential information in a way that promotes “inaccurate” media coverage.
“You have ignored repeated requests to consult first with Committee Members, law enforcement officials, and agency experts to understand how your disclosures might harm our national interests. As a result, under your leadership the Committee has become a virtual revolving door of leaks and misinformation.”
Cummings wrote the letter in response to a subpoena Issa issued on Monday to MITRE Corp., a contractor working to assess security issues with the ObamaCare website.
The administration has allowed Oversight staffers to review the reports in a secure room but is refusing to turn over physical copies.
Cummings called the subpoena “unnecessary and confrontational,” and implied that Issa was insisting on obtaining physical copies of the unredacted reports because he intends to leak the documents to the press in a way that misrepresents them.
Issa’s office did not return a request for comment but shot out a press release within minutes of the Cummings letter, quoting a HealthCare.gov security contractor, CSSi, saying that it’s happy to comply with a “validly-issued congressional subpoena.”
“Americans should be disturbed that this Administration is trying to stop government contractors from providing Congress with documents related to the decision to launch HealthCare.gov while known and serious security vulnerabilities were and still may be present,” Issa said in a statement. “CCSi’s analysis of the law is correct and its decision to comply protects its executives, investors, and customers from the risk of criminal prosecution for contempt of Congress.”
Cummings also accused Issa of rushing to issue the subpoena for the documents while he was returning from the funeral of former South African President Nelson Mandela. He said Issa’s staff rejected requests by Democratic staffers to wait until he returned, and that he and the chairman had an agreement to consult one another before issuing subpoenas.
The ranking member said that if Issa wouldn’t withdraw the subpoena, he should follow House rules and hold a committee vote before releasing the documents.
The Cummings letter comes a day after the Obama administration escalated its feud with Issa by telling him he could not have physical copies of the MITRE documents. The administration argued 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).
The administration says it’s particularly concerned about the MITRE documents leaking because they “include software code and other technical information that is highly sensitive” and could give hackers “a roadmap to compromise the security of the website and the personal information of American citizens.”
Issa's office responded by accusing 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.
The White House and Democrats on the Oversight Committee have publicly and privately fumed over Issa's document releases during his tenure heading the committee.
They say Issa has routinely disclosed sensitive or classified information in the course of politically charged investigations that only “partially reflect what’s happening,” as White House press secretary Jay Carney put it.