House Dems Block White House Witness in Google Email Breach

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Google logoThe
effort by House Republicans to investigate email practices at the White
House hit a wall yesterday, when a motion to subpoena the White House
deputy chief technology officer was blocked by Democrats during a House
Oversight subcommittee hearing.

Subcommittee Ranking Member
Patrick McHenry (R-NC) demanded a recorded vote on a motion to subpoena
White House technology officer Beth Noveck, after saying that the
absence of a White House witness “undermines the purposes of the hearing
and prevents us from doing our job of conducting oversight of this

Chairman Lacy Clay (D-MO) immediately called an
unexpected recess, and members sat waiting for 15 minutes before the
subcommittee reconvened.

The vote on the motion to subpoena was then defeated.

on the Oversight Committee are investigating why White House deputy web
chief Andrew McLaughlin was in contact with former coworkers at Google
from his personal Gmail account. In the emails, McLaughlin discussed
many of Google’s high priority lobbying issues, including FTC rules on
online privacy, the administration broadband policy, net neutrality and
intellectual property rules. House Republicans claim that the
conversations over private email were in violation of federal ethics and
recordkeeping rules, such as the Presidential Records Act.

the hearing, a consumer watchdog testified that he believed the White
House was too cozy with Google, and the company’s lobbying interests. “I
do think that Google specifically has perhaps too close a relationship
with the government,” said John Simpson, director of the Stem Cell
Project. “I think Mr. McLaughlin’s appointment is one of those ties that
are inappropriate.”

The White House has argued that McLaughlin’s
violation of the rules was unintentional, and the web chief was
reprimanded for the incidents in May.

Thursday’s hearing had been
originally scheduled for June 24, and was supposed to include testimony
by technology officer Novek, but it was postponed after Democrats
learned committee Republicans were planning to grill Novek about alleged
violations of recordkeeping rules. Novek did not appear at the
rescheduled hearing.

At the hearing, Rep. McHenry slammed the
Democrats for obstructing the subpoena of technology officer Noveck, and
said that subcommittee Democrats were “trying to protect one White
House witness from even answering questions about their record keeping.”

Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has been championing the inquiry into the use
of personal email by White House officials, commended Rep. McHenry’s
motion to subpoena Novek, in a Thursday press release.

Member McHenry was right to hold the majority accountable for trying to
give the Obama Administration a free pass on violations of record
keeping laws as a result of communicating with lobbyists through
personal e-mails,” said Rep. Issa. “Just two years ago, Democrats
expressed outrage about Presidential Records Act violations under the
Bush Administration while saying they were serious about efforts to
address problems.  Under the Obama Administration, they now appear more
than willing to offer the Obama White House a free pass on violations.”

Issa has been pressing Google to release information on its email
retention policy. In a July 9 letter, the congressman asked Google
director Michael Bradshaw to identify Google’s record retention rules,
including how long emails are retrievable after being deleted by a user,
Google’s policy for complying with subpaoenas and whether the White
House contacted the company about the retention of emails by White House
personnel covered under federal records acts.

Rep. Issa requested Bradshaw’s response by July 20, but according to the congressman’s office there has been no reply.


Alana Goodman is NLPC’s Capitol Hill Reporter.

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