Friday, April 27, 2007

Panel Seeks Records of Political Briefings at Agencies
Panel Seeks Records of Political Briefings at Agencies
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer

A House committee chairman asked 27 federal departments and agencies yesterday to turn over information related to White House briefings about elections or political candidates, substantially widening the scope of a congressional investigation into the administration's compliance with the law that restricts partisan political activity by government employees.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, made the requests after the White House acknowledged that aides to Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, had presented 20 briefings on the "political landscape" to senior federal appointees, last year and this year. An undetermined number of briefings were held in previous years, a spokesman said.

Waxman asked that the information be submitted by mid-May, including the dates, times, locations and names of attendees of briefings that occurred from 2001 until this month, as well as any related "communications and documents." Waxman's committee has the authority to subpoena the data if the Bush administration declines to provide them voluntarily. This week, the panel endorsed three subpoenas on unrelated matters.

Waxman's interest in the political briefings was sparked by the disclosure of a January presentation by Rove aide J. Scott Jennings to General Services Administration appointees. After that briefing, according to witnesses, Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan asked how the agency could help "our candidates," and Jennings replied that the matter should be discussed "off-line." Doan has said that she does not recall asking that question.

A law known as the Hatch Act prohibits workplace pressures meant to influence an election outcome, as well as the use of federal resources for partisan purposes.

Asked yesterday if the White House will release copies of the briefings presented to other agencies, spokeswoman Dana Perino responded that she will "take it under consideration, but I sincerely doubt it." She explained that, at the White House, "we don't turn over lots of documents." She said the briefings were appropriate, lawful and ethical.

Perino said that asking why the briefings were given is "a ridiculous question. . . . The reason you're here working for the president is that you want to support his policies and his agenda. So it's good to get information from time to time."

Perino also said that the briefings included descriptions of congressional districts where vulnerable Republicans were up for reelection.