Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the committee, sparked the investigation with a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar this week, accusing Occupy D.C. of damaging McPherson Square after $400,000 in taxpayer funds were spent in recent years to improve it. He also questioned whether the Park Service has disregarded its own rules by making exceptions for the 10-week-old protest.
Citing a federal law that appears to prohibit camping in the square, Issa demanded that Salazar turn over by Jan. 3 “all communication” among Park Service officials, the White House and Occupy D.C. protesters. Issa also wants a “written explanation” on why the Park Service allowed demonstrators to “camp in McPherson Square” and a complete accounting of all arrests related to Occupy D.C.
“While the protesters’ continued occupation of the park appears to violate the law, the NPS has not taken any action to enforce the relevant statute,” Issa wrote. “This situation raises questions about why those decisions were made, who participated in making them, and whether political judgments played a role in not enforcing the law.”
Interior officials did not directly address Issa’s letter and gave no indication Tuesday that they would shift their stance toward the protesters.
The letter, which comes as three Occupy protesters enter the second week of their hunger strike for D.C. voting rights, represents the first direct congressional intervention in the protest on K Street.
But in a city where skepticism of congressional Republicans runs deep, the letter could help galvanize a movement that is struggling to come up with a plan for sustaining itself through the winter.
On Tuesday, the gaunt and weary protesters on the hunger strike held a day-long sit-in outside the Capitol Hill office House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “They are stepping all over us, and we can’t let that continue,” said Rooj Alwazir, 23, a McPherson Square dweller who accompanied the hunger strikers to the Hill.
A separate protest group, Stop the Machine, has a Park Service permit to keep tents in Freedom Plaza, but the demonstrators in McPherson Square, affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, do not have a permit to remain in the park overnight.
While police across the country have cleared out Occupy encampments in their cities — there was an early Tuesday morning raid on a park near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor — Park Service officials largely have adopted a policy of nonconfrontation with the McPherson Square protesters.