The House Committee on Energy and Commerce accused President Obama’s administration of “putting secrecy over transparency in an effort to avoid accountability” in a report released Tuesday by its Republican majority.
Administration officials have met with lobbyists outside the White House to avoid recording the lobbyists’ names on White House visitor logs and used personal e-mail accounts to conduct government business, according to the report -- a possible violation of the Presidential Records Act, if the e-mails were not preserved.
The report undercuts Obama’s pledge to operate “the most transparent administration in history.”
The meetings off White House grounds were first reported in 2010 by The New York Times, which revealed hundreds of meetings between administration officials and lobbyists in coffee shops near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Caribou Coffee across the street from the White House is a favorite meeting place, according to the Times, and the cafe was mentioned by name in the energy and commerce committee report.
One section of the report includes e-mails submitted to the committee by Trimble Navigation, a GPS company.
In an e-mail exchange from April 2011, Jeff Smith, a senior adviser to the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, offers to meet Trimble vice president Jim Kirkland at Caribou for the explicit purpose of avoiding the White House visitor log.
Smith wrote, “Jim – coffee at Caribou Coffee – across the corner from the WH – would work at 11:30 a.m. on Friday…plus getting you through the new WH security rules these days almost takes an act of Congress almost (and you know how well that’s going these days),” Smith wrote. “[P]lus you’d appear on an official WH Visitor List which is maybe not want [sic] you want at this stage …”
On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called for a “full-scale investigation.”
“The Obama White House is actively deceiving the American people,” Priebus said, “and they’re doing it over a Caribou latte.”
Other e-mails in the report include some sent by Jim Messina during the health care reform debate in 2010, when he was Obama’s deputy chief of staff. The Messina e-mails were sent to a lobbyist for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America from Messina’s personal account.
In one note, Messina, now Obama’s campaign manager, boasts that he will “roll” then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to achieve a deal between the pharmaceutical group and the Senate Finance Committee.
The Obama campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The energy and commerce committee said in its report that it obtained the private e-mails “directly from some of the non-governmental organizations that were engaged in these closed-door meetings and negotiations with the White House.”Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.