by Tom Fitton –
They didn’t fess up willingly. But after we applied the appropriate pressure, government officials responsible for operating the Washington D.C. Obamacare “Small Business Exchange” have finally admitted that Congress is taking advantage of health benefits its members and staff are not entitled to claim.
At least 12,359 members of Congress, congressional staffers, and their spouses and dependents currently purchase health insurance in D.C.’s Small Business Exchange even though Congress far exceeds D.C. law’s 50-employee limit for participating in the exchange. That’s why we filed a lawsuit in October on behalf of Kirby Vining, a D.C. taxpayer, against the D.C. Health Exchange Authority. In a court filing, the D.C. government conceded that, under D.C. law, the U.S. Congress is not permitted to obtain insurance through the District’s Small Business Exchange. But members of the political class, true to form, do not believe the rules apply to them. How do we know?
Our lawsuit cites applications filed by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate with the D.C. Exchange Authority. The applications, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, show that the House and Senate claimed to have only 45 employees each. They also show that the House and Senate attested to having “50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees.” Congress employs upwards of 20,000 people. D.C. law limits participation in the exchange to small businesses having fewer than 50 full-time employees. The applications also falsely state that the House and Senate are “local/state governments.” The “electronic signature” section of the application includes the following language:
I’ve provided true and correct information to all the questions on this form to the best of my knowledge. I know that if I’m not truthful, there may be a penalty.
The actual names of the signatories were blacked out by the D.C. Exchange in the documents Judicial Watch obtained. If nothing else, the political class knows how to cover its tracks. But on November 7, 2014, the Exchange Authority filed a Motion to Dismiss in which it clearly admits that the law does not allow Congress to participate in its Small Business Exchange. Here’s the key paragraph:
The Health Benefit Exchange Authority was created by the District of Columbia Council under the ACA, and authorized to operate a SHOP Exchange [“Small Business Health Options Program”] in the District through which qualified small businesses could access health coverage for employees. By limiting the SHOP Exchange to “small employers” with an “average of not more than 50 employees during the preceding calendar year,” D.C. Code 31-3171.01 prevents Congressional enrollment in the D.C. Shop Exchange because Congress does not fall within the definition of “small employer.” [Emphasis added]
But just because the D.C. government now admits it knows what’s right doesn’t mean it intends to do what’s right. Remarkably, District officials now argue that federal bureaucrats in the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) could override the District’s laws (and, implicitly the Affordable Care Act). As our attorneys point out in the JW response, Congress plainly knows how to block or reverse D.C. laws. The D.C. law that created the Small Business Exchange is completely consistent with, not preempted by, federal law. And if it is “preempted,” it can’t be undone by a bureaucrat ignoring the Affordable Care Act at the Office of Personnel Management. This Obama power grab is not constitutional and cannot be used to change federal law or “force” a local government to ignore the rule of law. Unfortunately, from the D.C. government’s point of view, this case is not about logic, reason and honesty.
We are asking the court, on behalf of Mr. Vining, to:
(a) declare the House and the Senate’s participation in the Small Business Exchange to be unlawful;
(b) enjoin Defendants from continuing to allow the House and the Senate to participate in the Small Business Exchange, or at a minimum, from expending further taxpayer funds on the House and Senate’s participation in the Small Business Exchange;
(c) issue a writ of mandamus ordering [District officials] to deny the House and the Senate further participation in the Small Business Exchange . . .”
We are pushing ahead even as the opposing side pushes back. On December 12, 2014, we filed an Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss on behalf of Vining. The D.C. Exchange then filed a Reply to the Opposition on December 22, 2014. So, the legal battle continues to rage. And you can rest assured that your JW will continue to go to toe-to-toe with the D.C. government that is undermining the rule of law. In the meantime, you might want to check with your local congressman and senators about what they think about the possible fraud now being committed to provide illegal health insurance to Congress. You can point them to our documents and demand accountability.
Attkisson and Judicial Watch Challenge
Obama Administration’s Assault on Freedom of Press
What happens when an intrepid, investigative journalist exposes policy missteps and outright corruption at the highest levels of government in 21st Century America? Apparently, the widely cherished First Amendment rights to “Freedom of Speech,” “Freedom of the Press,” and “Due Process” become subjugated beneath Team Obama’s political agenda. Just ask Sharyl Attkisson, the award-winning former CBS news reporter. She discovered that her computers were hacked between 2011 and 2013 when she was probing into the growing scandals surrounding the Benghazi terrorist attack and the Operation Fast and Furious gunrunning operation. News is starting to break on the tactics that have been employed by top government officials to silence Attkisson. It is as foreboding as it is revealing, and Judicial Watch is at the forefront of the fight to expose the truth and vindicate the rule of law.
In November, we were honored to once again team up with Attkisson to file a Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking “any and all records” of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) relating to the award-winning correspondent. We learned from documents obtained in a separate lawsuit last fall both the DOJ and the White House targeted the former CBS correspondent as a result of her investigations into the growing Fast and Furious scandal. In an October 4, 2011, email to White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, Attorney General Eric Holder’s top press aide Tracy Schmaler described Attkisson as “out of control.” Schmaler added ominously, “I’m also calling Sharryl’s [sic] editor and reaching out to Scheiffer” (an apparent reference to CBS’ Chief Washington Correspondent and Face the Nation moderator Bob Scheiffer). Schultz responded, “Good. Her piece was really bad for the AG.”
As we have previously reported, Fast and Furious was a Justice Department/Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) “gunrunning” operation in which the Obama administration allowed guns to go to Mexican drug cartels. Fast and Furious weapons have been implicated in the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and hundreds of other innocents in Mexico. Attorney General Eric Holder has already admitted that guns from the Fast and Furious scandal are expected to be used in criminal activity on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border for years to come.
Attkisson, who in 2012 won both the Emmy and the Edward R. Murrow awards for investigative reporting, first began reporting on Fast and Furious in February 2011, when she broke the story: “Gunrunning Scandal Uncovered at the ATF.” Since then, she has filed more than 100 stories relating to the gunrunning debacle, many of which were exclusive reports. In her new book “Stonewalled,” Attkisson reported that she had received inside information that government-related sources had hacked into both her personal and work computers over a lengthy period of time.
Attkisson is now suing the Obama administration, specifically Attorney General Eric Holder and Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, for $35 million in damages after computer forensic exams show hackers monitoring her work exposing the Obama administration for its corrupt actions. (Judicial Watch is not representing Attkisson in this new lawsuit.)
The DOJ denies being behind this activity, but Attkisson and our own attorneys have evidence showing the DOJ had it in for Attkisson over her straight-forward reporting on Fast and Furious. So just how far is the DOJ willing to go? That’s what our FOIA lawsuit is all about. Leaving no stone unturned we are asking for:
“Any and all records concerned, regarding or relating to Sharyl Attkisson. Such records include, but are not limited to, records of background checks of Sharyl Attkisson, records of communications, contacts, or correspondence between Sharyl Attkisson and employees, officials or agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and records of investigations concerning or regarding Sharyl Attkisson as a victim…”
As regular readers of the Weekly Update are aware, our November FOIA lawsuit is not the first collaborative effort between Judicial Watch and Attkisson. In August 2014, Judicial Watch teamed with Attkisson to file a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services to obtain records pertaining to the failed rollout of President Obama’s health care law.
Attkisson has said of Judicial Watch, “For years, I’ve watched Judicial Watch’s dogged tenacity produce success in using FOIA lawsuits to obtain documents from a secretive government, whether under President George W. Bush or President Barack Obama, that often had utter contempt for me or other investigative journalists. Journalists and Americans interested in the truth about Washington under any administration can look to Judicial Watch and its work.”
Republican Political Corruption
in Congress and the State House
Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was at the top of his game when he delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address back in January 2010. And now, just five years later, McDonnell is on his way to jail. On January 6, he was sentenced to two years in federal prison after being convicted on public corruption charges. Once again, your Judicial Watch was ahead of the curve. In December 2013, we gave McDonnell a “Dishonorable Mention” in JW’s “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians for 2013.” As someone who exchanged expensive gifts for political favors, McDonnell rightly deserved at least a “mention.”
Among the gifts McDonnell took were luxury vacations, a $10,000 suede coat, a lavish shopping spree at swanky New York City stores, and a $15,000 wedding gift to Governor McDonnell’s daughter. The governor and his wife also billed Virginia taxpayers for things like dog vitamins, body wash, sunscreen, deodorant and their adult children’s dry cleaning, and used state workers to run personal errands for their adult daughters.
In September, a federal jury in Richmond convicted McDonnell and his wife Maureen of multiple counts of corruption. After deliberating for 17 hours, the jury found the former governor guilty on 11 corruption and fraud counts and his wife guilty on eight corruption counts and one count of obstruction of justice. This includes six counts of obtaining property, worth $138,804, under color of official right. The amount includes a $15,000 check for the McDonnell daughter’s wedding. Maureen McDonnell will be sentenced on February 20. Prosecutors had asked for a longer prison sentence more along the lines of 10 years. But Judge James Spencer said federal officials misinterpreted the guidelines and decided the appropriate range was more like 78 to 97 months or 61/2 to a little more than eight years.
Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of Star Scientific, received immunity in exchange for testifying against the McDonnells. Williams, who was seeking state support for his company’s nutrition supplements, enticed Virginia’s first family with expensive gifts and monetary favors. This included the $6,500 Rolex that Maureen McDonnell presented to her husband. There were also loans Williams provided to the McDonnells to help cover costs for not one, but two beach houses.
Last May, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to obtain records of communications regarding the McDonnell investigation. And with good reason. In their Motion for Discovery in response to the indictment, McDonnell’s lawyers noted that there was “a steady stream of negative leaks of confidential information” made public during last year’s gubernatorial contest. They characterized the leaks as “salacious and damaging.”
As I said at the time we filed our FOIA lawsuit, “Whether ex-Governor McDonnell and his wife are guilty or not, the Obama Justice Department can’t break the rules by leaking information for political and other improper reasons.” Under our system of justice, a jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that the former governor was guilty. And he must pay the penalty. But, that still does not excuse the Holder Department of Justice for attempting to prejudice the case in the press. (And it raises the question about the Justice Department’s criminal lack of interest in seriously investigating the Obama gang’s abuse of the IRS and myriad other Obama scandals that ought to have this president visiting a grand jury on a regular basis.)
At the same time McDonnell was being convicted for his crimes, another Republican on a JW list of “Ten Most Corrupt Politicians” was conceding his guilt in federal court. Michael Grimm, a United States Congressman from Staten Island, New York, was a decorated Marine and an FBI agent before getting elected. These are all very impressive credentials, indeed.
But he was awarded a “Dishonorable Mention” on our 2012 list of “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” for allegations that “his 2010 congressional campaign had accepted contributions over the legal limit and from noncitizen donors via Ofer Biton, a former aide to a prominent Israeli rabbi, in exchange for helping Biton obtain a green card.” Grimm now has pleaded guilty to tax evasion and other crimes and he has just resigned from Congress. Grimm thought that he might hang on, despite admitting to federal crimes. Thankfully, the House leadership wasn’t so out of touch as to let that happen. I understand that Speaker Boehner, who is no angel, pushed him out.
In addition to his 2012 campaign problems, just last April, we reported that Grimm was hit with a 20-count federal indictment for hiding more than $1 million in profits from a restaurant that employed a large number of illegal immigrants. Grimm, who is both a lawyer and an accountant, knew exactly what he was doing. During the time period ranging from 2007 to 2010, Grimm oversaw the restaurant’s day-to-day operations and he filed false state and federal tax returns to conceal over $1 million in sales and wages, according to federal investigators. He also paid cooks, cashiers and delivery persons, many of them in the U.S. illegally, hundreds of thousands of dollars off the books. (We will leave aside, for now, the scandal of the Obama Justice Department’s selective enforcement of laws regarding illegal immigration!)
Recall that it was Grimm who was caught on tape telling a questioning reporter “I’ll break you in half.” The video is available here. Now we can see why he was reticent to speak with the press and answer straight questions.
These two politicians show that political corruption is a bipartisan problem. Republicans and Democrats may not share ideologies or policies but they are all human and subject to hubris. Judicial Watch’s motto is: “No one is above the law!” Every elected official in the land would do well to have that phrase prominently displayed in their offices to remind them of their duties to the public.
Tom Fitton – President