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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Issa investigates DNC donor meeting in White House

Darrell Issa questions White House's 2012 actions
Issa has sent a letter to the president's top lawyer requesting a slew of documents. | AP Photo

By JAKE SHERMAN | 7/12/11 4:33 AM EDT

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is probing what he sees as signs of an unseemly overlap between President Barack Obama’s official and political activities.

In what could be considered the committee’s sharpest probe to date of the White House, Issa sent a letter to Obama’s top lawyer Monday evening asking for a slew of documents relating to what the California Republican termed as “an array of potentially illegal fundraising behavior.”

Issa singled out a White House meeting in March between Obama, Democratic National Committee officials and members of the business community — who were all Obama donors. The meeting was organized by the DNC.

He’s also calling into question the Obama administration’s decision to provide access to administration officials – possibly including the White House chef – to large donors.

And Issa is taking issue with a campaign video that he says appears to have been shot in the White House, advertising a raffle to have dinner with Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden in return for contributions.

It’s just the latest front in the widening battle between Republicans and Obama as the president runs for reelection. The new House GOP majority is already trying to dismantle Obama’s health care law, hauling in administration officials to testify in oversight hearings. They’re probing his overhaul of the financial regulatory structure and trying to force his aides to testify on Capitol Hill. But Issa, who has subpoena power, is upping the ante by asking that the White House cough up internal documents relating to how the president is running his reelection effort, and whether the White House is being used.

“We have an obligation to inquire into the activities of the now closed White House political office because these activities – some of them are continuing but they’re continuing less formally,” Issa said in a brief interview with POLITICO Monday evening. “It’s an ordinary oversight letter. In other words, we’re not saying, ‘You did terrible things.’ We’re saying, ‘We have indication of this, please explain,’ and that’s what the letter intends to do.”

And of course, the veiled threat is that Issa would issue the subpoena power he possesses as Oversight chairman to force the administration to comply.

The Obama activities targeted by Issa are hardly new. Top aides in previous White Houses were involved with reelection efforts in their spare time. Experts and lawyers have said publicly that all of what the Obama team is doing is above board, and a White House aide provided POLITICO with more than a dozen news clips and videos showing previous presidents using the trappings of the presidency in similar ways.

For now, Issa is requesting documents and communication relating to the March 7 event with business leaders, including all drafts of invitation lists, RSVP notices, and communications with parties like the DNC. He also wants all communication and documents that refer to using the White House for other DNC events, documentation for the “Dinner with Barack and Joe” fundraiser and all documents that relate to “the use of federal personnel for fundraising purposes, including having federal employees attend fundraising events.” The letter requests that the documents be turned over by July 26.

“Notwithstanding the stated official purpose of this event, this meeting was not included on President Obama’s public schedule, calling into question its official nature,” Issa writes. “Individuals in attendance have essentially affirmed that the underlying – if not overtly stated – purpose of the event was to solidify financial support for the upcoming campaign.”

Issa’s letter also says that the administration appears to be trying to provide “access…in exchange for campaign contributions” by auctioning off a dinner with Obama and Biden and allowing senior administration officials to interact with donors.

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