Novak ignored potential violations of law in column about Waxman's "grand inquisition"

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

In his July 26 column, syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak claimed that House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) was waging "an all-out war against" President Bush because Waxman has launched investigations into the Bush administration's alleged politicization of various federal agencies. Novak -- who called the committee's investigations a "grand inquisition" -- asserted that Waxman had "planned payback through 12 years in the minority" and that the investigations were "[a]t a staff level ... simply payback time for Democrats who remember when Rep. Dan Burton [R-IN] chaired the committee that Waxman now heads and sought e-mails revealing illegal foreign political contributions." As examples of this "grand inquisition," Novak referenced the Oversight Committee's investigation into "a politicized" Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and suggested that Waxman's "claim[]" of "a 'tradition of non-partisanship' " within the ONDCP was belied by the fact that ONDCP's "first drug czar was the conservative writer and pundit William J. Bennett." In fact, a letter by Waxman to which Novak referred in his column noted that in 1994, after Bennett left his post, "Congress passed legislation to insulate the drug czar and the agency's Senate-confirmed deputies from political pressures by prohibiting them from engaging in political activities even on their own time."

In addition, Novak asserted that Waxman "has accused Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration, of soliciting political activity from her employees" as part of his "all-out war against Bush." In fact, it is not just Waxman who has made such accusations. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), headed by Bush appointee Scott J. Bloch, concluded that Doan violated the Hatch Act's prohibition against using one's official position to influence an election and submitted its report to the president for "appropriate action." As Media Matters for America has previously noted, according to the OSC, following a January presentation by deputy White House political director Scott Jennings, which detailed 79 candidates targeted by the White House for support or opposition in upcoming elections, Doan asked Jennings, "How can we help our candidates?" The OSC described this question as an "inherently coercive" attempt to "ask and/or encourage her subordinates to engage in political activity."

According to the Oversight Committee:

At the request of Sara Taylor, the former White House Director of Political Affairs, John Walters, the nation's drug czar, and his deputies traveled to 20 events with vulnerable Republican members of Congress in the months prior to the 2006 elections. The trips were paid for by federal taxpayers and several were combined with the announcement of federal grants or actions that benefited the districts of the Republican members.

As Novak wrote in his column:

Waxman intends to question Taylor about a post-election meeting that Rove presided over, as described in a Nov. 21 e-mail to Walters and his deputies from Douglas Simon, the drug control office's liaison with the White House. Simon wrote that Rove "specifically thanked, for going beyond the call of duty, the Dept. of Commerce, Transportation, Agriculture AND the WH Drug Policy Office. This recognition is not something we hear every day, and we should feel confident that our hard work is noticed. ... Director Walters and the Deputies covered thousands of miles ... [and] had to give up time with their families for the god awful places we sent them."

Noting that these "god awful places" were constituencies of vulnerable Republicans in Congress, Waxman asked for Taylor's testimony on "the use of taxpayer-funded travel" by the drug czar "to help Republican candidates for office."

In his letter to Taylor, in which he requested Taylor voluntarily be deposed, Waxman noted that "[b]y statute, the ONDCP Director and the agency's Senate-confirmed deputies are prohibited from engaging in campaign activities in either their official or their private capacities. ... In 1994, Congress passed legislation to insulate the drug czar and the agency's Senate-confirmed deputies from political pressures by prohibiting them from engaging in political activities even on their own time." Despite quoting portions of Waxman's letter to Taylor, Novak did not note that the ONDCP members who participated in this alleged political travel at the request of the White House may be in violation of the law.

Indeed, the statute to which Waxman referred includes a "prohibition on political campaigning" by "[a]ny officer or employee of the" ONDCP who is appointed by the president:

(5) Prohibition on political campaigning

Any officer or employee of the Office who is appointed to that position by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, may not participate in Federal election campaign activities, except that such official is not prohibited by this paragraph from making contributions to individual candidates.

From Novak's July 26 column:

The midterm elections 13 days earlier had been disastrous for Republicans, but on Nov. 20 Sara Taylor gushed in a thank-you message to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The 32-year-old White House political director praised drug czar John Walters and his deputies for attending 20 campaign events for vulnerable Republicans in Congress. Tomorrow, Taylor will testify as a private citizen under oath about the propriety of this political activity.

Since she resigned her White House post in May, Taylor has been the target of Democratic committee chairmen. On July 11, she stumbled through interrogation by the Senate Judiciary Committee and Chairman Patrick Leahy about political motives in the dismissal of U.S. attorneys. She had hardly recovered from that ordeal when she received a July 17 letter from House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman requesting "voluntary" testimony on "politicization" of the drug control office. Under an agreement negotiated by her attorney, Taylor will give a deposition tomorrow in preparation for open testimony, perhaps on Monday.

Taylor has been the most obvious target of a grand inquisition, but she is small game. The Democrats are after her former boss, senior presidential adviser Karl Rove, and beyond him, George W. Bush, whom they consider an illegitimate president. At a staff level, it is simply payback time for Democrats who remember when Rep. Dan Burton chaired the committee that Waxman now heads and sought e-mails revealing illegal foreign political contributions.

[...]

Waxman's complaint of a politicized drug office is enhanced by Simon's description of Rove after the election: "Karl also launched into a feisty discussion about the plans for the final two years of this administration. In no uncertain terms, he said he is not going to let the last quarter of this presidency be dictated" by "Capitol Hill."

Waxman concedes that he sounds like the French police inspector in the movie "Casablanca" who was "shocked" to discover gambling. "I recognize that federal political appointees have traveled to events with members of Congress in prior administrations," he wrote. "What is striking about your memo to [the drug control office] is the degree of White House control, the number of trips, and the agency involved." He claimed a "tradition of non-partisanship" in an office whose first drug czar was the conservative writer and pundit William J. Bennett.

Waxman's multiple inquiries are an all-out war against Bush. He has accused Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration, of soliciting political activity from her employees. He heard testimony from former surgeon general Richard Carmona that the White House politicized his work. Waxman also has said that he plans to revisit what Taylor knows about the sacking of U.S. attorneys.

Waxman planned payback through 12 years in the minority. In response, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's ranking Republican, Rep. Tom Davis, at an April 25 committee meeting tried to extend Waxman's subpoena of Republican e-mails to include Democratic e-mails during the Clinton administration. Davis was defeated on a party-line vote.

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Government, Ethics
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Robert Novak
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Attacks on Progressives, Propaganda/Noise Machine
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