From NBC's Jason Seher
On Capitol Hill this morning, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, grilled Department of Homeland Security FOIA professionals, claiming that political appointees obstructed the widely used tool for gaining access to government documents.
The hearing centered on a delayed request filed by the Associated Press, which was investigating how DHS handles FOIA requests. Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) repeatedly accused DHS of forwarding FOIA requests -- by certain media organizations and then minority members of Congress -- to political appointees within the department to review and redact the desired documents.
"This reeks of a Nixonian enemies list," Issa quipped.
Narrowing most of Chief FOIA and Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan's answers to a, "yes or no," Issa asserted she forwarded FOIA requests to DHS political appointees, who then evaluated the information based on how embarrassing or politically sensitive it was.
Despite Issa's claims, however, both the written committee findings and a report issued by the DHS inspector general found the privacy office did not engage in unfair or illegal politicization of FOIA requests. Throughout the hearing, Callahan insisted no FOIA requesters were disadvantaged because of their political party or area of interest.
"To my knowledge, no one other than a FOIA professional made a substantive change to a FOIA release," Callahan said. "The department was not engaging in spin. They just wanted to know what was in the documents."
The ranking Democrat on the committee, Elijah Cummings (D-MD) hedged on the issue. While admiting that DHS needs to respond to FOIA requests much faster, he dismissed Issa's claims of politicization, calling these "extreme accusations are unsubstantiated."