Congressional Democrats Complain Inspectors General’s Review of HRC’s Emails as “Too Politicized”

Posted: 1:28 pm EDT
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In January, we wrote It Took Awhile But Here It Is — Going After @StateDept OIG Steve Linick With Fake Sleeper Cells. In February, there was an allegation of “fishing expeditions.” This month, it got louder (Kerry Stands By Linick as Clinton Campaign Goes the Full Monty on @StateDept Inspector General).  From the beginning, we are of the opinion that the real target of these allegations of bias is Mr. Linick, who came to the State Department in 2013.  If you can smear the messengers badly enough, then, of course, all those reports his office issued and will issue in the future can simply be ignored or dismissed as partisan.  We remain convinced that the State IG and ICIG are doing their jobs as well as they could under awful weather conditions in an election year.

More recently, the NYT reported that senior Democrats in Congress have now accused the inspectors general of the State Department and the nation’s intelligence agencies of politicizing their review of the former secretary of state’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

The accusation — made in an unusually pointed letter dated Wednesday — underscored the increasingly partisan nature of the controversy over the email practices of Mrs. Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Those practices are the subject of an F.B.I. investigation, in addition to inquiries by the inspectors general and congressional committees.

“Already, this review has been too politicized,” the Democrats wrote to Steve A. Linick, the State Department’s inspector general, and I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies. “We are relying on you as independent inspectors general to perform your duties dispassionately and comprehensively.”

WaPo notes that Mr. Linick, the State Department’s independent watchdog, has been conducting a review of the use of private email for government business at the request of Secretary of State John Kerry.

The office of I. Charles McCullough III, who plays the same role for the intelligence community, was involved in a review of Clinton’s correspondence as it was released to the public, a process that concluded last month.

The dual complaints from the campaign trail and from Capitol Hill regarding the watchdogs could be an effort to proactively inoculate Clinton should one of the two offices issue a report that is damaging to Clinton’s presidential campaign. Clinton’s campaign has already aggressively worked to undermine the credibility of the two offices.

Doug Welty, a spokesman for the State IG, said:

“Partisan politics play no role in OIG’s work.  At all times, State OIG operates as an independent organization, consistent with the law,” he said in a statement. “Our work will continue to be unbiased, objective, and fact-based. We are now reviewing the email practices of the current and last four secretaries of State, not just Secretary Clinton.  Any suggestion that the office is biased against any particular secretary is completely false.”

We recognize that the IGs walk a very difficult line, having to report not only to their agency heads (in the case of the ICIG, that’s more than a dozen intel agencies) but also to the Congress. Sherman Funk, the former State Department IG described it as straddling the barbed wire fence.  If our elected reps are concerned that the reviews have become “too politicized,” then Congress should stop leaking to the press IG materials before they are officially released.

Of course, if these reviews become so highly partisan that it become impossible for the watchdogs to do their jobs, there is always another solution.  Congress can restore the Independent Counsel law which could be used by Congress or the Attorney General to investigate individuals holding or formerly holding certain high positions in the federal government.

Oh, my goodness, look who will be salivating over that. The last time the IC happened, if we remember right, there was a lot of sludge and the stock price for Clorox actually went up.  So best not go there. Below is the letter sent to both IGs:

 

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Welcome Back, State/OIG, We’ve Missed You!

— By Domani Spero

On September 30, Mr. Linick’s first day in office, we posted this:  Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 Days.

One day later, he lost 65% of his entire staff. State Dept Declares Inspector General Office “Non-Essential”, Furloughs All Staffers Except a Handful (Corrected).

In one of its six offices (Inspection, Audit, Investigation, General Counsel, Public Affairs and EX) four out of approximately 50 employees were declared “excepted.”  The rest were given letters notifying them that they had been furloughed. So on Tuesday, the first day of the shutdown, the State/OIG employees worked no more than four hours to “shutdown” then went home for an undetermined period of time.  They’re back at work today but we fear that the 16-day furlough will have a demoralizing impact.

Besides the IG office, the International Water Boundary Commission was also furloughed. The total number of employees furloughed by State, a number hard to come by, was reportedly in the low hundreds.

The Cable’s John Hudson who puts the number at about 340 employees, reports that this “disproportionate furlough allotment has led critics to accuse the department of undervaluing the watchdog office, though the department strongly disputes that.”

“On day one, they sent home the IG’s office without knowing how long the shutdown would last,” a Congressional staffer familiar with State’s shutdown planning told The Cable. “I think the Department’s action speaks for itself about its commitment to transparency, accountability, and oversight.”

But State’s IG spokesman Douglas Welty denied the allegation. “OIG does not feel ‘targeted’ or ‘undervalued’ at all,” he said. “While there was certainly a significant impact on OIG operations with about 65% of our staff furloughed due to the government shutdown, work on several priority issues and projects continued.”

That may be, but as The Cable notes, “the optics of OIG taking a disproportionate share of the furloughs isn’t great for an office with a history of being marginalized.”

We were told that while it was “a challenge” to have about 65% of OIG staff furloughed one day after Mr. Linick started as the Inspector General, some critical work did continue.  For instance, the Office of Audits excepted staff did continue work on financial statement audits, as well as those working on projects and investigations in the Middle East Region Office (MERO).  The MERO Directorate is responsible for performing engagements within the Middle East and South and Central Asia, in addition to the general operation of overseas offices in Kabul Afghanistan; Islamabad, Pakistan; and Baghdad, Iraq.  However, several overseas and domestic inspections have been delayed.  The exceptions were two overseas inspections that did continue despite the shutdown because they were already in the field.

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If you want the upside here, it is probably that while Mr. Linick’s transition has not been smooth, the last two weeks did give him time to meet with his senior staff (at least those not furloughed) and get a thorough briefings on OIG’s structure, operations and priority issues.  The downside, of course, is — the new kid in the block was in no position to make the case for continued operation when he just got there. And what a reception!    On a related note, Emilia Disanto has been appointed Acting Deputy Inspector General as of October 1. Karen Ouzts is the new Assistant Inspector General for Administration, with appointment date of  September 4, 2013. And  Norman P. Brown, the Acting Assistant Inspector General for Audits was appointed to his position on September 13, 2013.

Now —  we understand that the reason why the OIG was furloughed was due to its annual fiscal year funding, as opposed to multi-year or no-year funding for the rest of the State Department.  Of all the many offices at State, OIG is one of the very few offices with one-year funding.  But since the OIG is tasked with investigating fraud, waste and mismanagement of an agency with multi-year/no-year funds, wouldn’t it make sense that its funding corresponds/mirrors with the designated Federal entity’s funding to which the Inspector General reports? So if State has multi-year funding, shouldn’t State/OIG ought to have multi-year funding, too?

Something to watch out for when State/OIG, a statutorily created independent entity, makes its 2015 Congressional Budget Justification. For now we just want to say —

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Welcome back folks, we’ve missed you!

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