- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

House chief investigator Rep. Darrell Issa released a recording Wednesday of a then-Obama Cabinet official leaving a voicemail asking someone to attend a fundraiser, escalating a battle with the White House over political activities within the administration.

In the recording, former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis appears to solicit help for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, which Mr. Issa said is a violation of federal law.

The release comes as Mr. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House oversight committee, is trying to pressure the White House to buckle and allow David Simas, the director of the newly reopened White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, to testify to Congress.

White House lawyers have refused, saying as an adviser to the president Mr. Simas is immune from having to respond to the subpoena Mr. Issa issued.

“We have never been faced with a president who had claimed an inherent immunity from a federal employee,” Mr. Issa said. “We’re in the process of working with independent House counsel to evaluate a first-ever claim that this president is, in fact, a sovereign and thus has inherent rights not to be deposed, if you will, including his political appointees.”

During Wednesday’s committee hearing, which Mr. Simas did not attend, Mr. Issa played a recording of Ms. Solis asking someone to “help us get folks organized” to come to an Obama campaign fundraiser at La Fonda restaurant in Los Angeles.

“There are a lot of folks that we know that are coming but wanted to ask you if you might help contribute or get other folks to help out,” she says.

The Office of Special Counsel had received a complaint that Ms. Solis, in March 2012, left a voicemail on an employee’s government-issued Blackberry asking them to contribute and assist with organizing others for the fundraiser.

OSC is an independent watchdog agency that oversees and administers laws like the Hatch Act, which bars public employees from using their office to engage in partisan political actives.

The Los Angeles Times reported in May that the FBI has probed the incident and that OSC had referred the matter to the Justice Department. Ms. Solis says she did nothing wrong.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

But Scott Coffina, who as associate counsel to President George W. Bush advised White House staff on Hatch Act compliance, among other ethics and election law issues, said the recording sounded like “pretty rock solid evidence” that the law was broken.

“That sounds like a clear Hatch Act violation to me,” he said.

Ranking member Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, said administration officials confirmed in a Tuesday briefing that there is no evidence Mr. Simas or anyone on his staff violated the Hatch Act since January.

“We do not simply haul in one of the president’s top advisers at will,” Mr. Cummings said.

Mr. Issa had asked OSC in March for any information related to its investigation of Ms. Solis, which effectively closed after she stepped down from her position in January 2013, as well as information about the relaunching of the White House’s political office. The White House had closed the Office of Political Affairs in 2011 but ordered it re-opened this year under a new name.

White House press secretary Joshua Earnest said Wednesday that there has not been a “single shred of evidence that’s been presented” to raise concerns about the conduct of anyone working in the new political office.

In September 2012, the White House declined to punish former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after the OSC found she violated the Hatch Act for remarks she made at a public event.

Several Internal Revenue Service employees also have been suspended or fired in recent months after the OSC determined they were improperly engaging in political activity.

Mr. Cummings played his own tape at the hearing — a video of Mr. Issa from 2011 pledging to consult the members of the committee before issuing controversial subpoenas.

“The members of this committee should have the chance to deliberate, especially on matters as serious as compelling the testimony of a senior presidential adviser,” Mr. Cummings said.

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