By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
White House officials arranged for top officials at the Office of National Drug Control Policy to help as many as 18 vulnerable Republican congressmen by making appearances and sometimes announcing new federal grants in the lawmakers' districts in the months leading up to the November 2006 elections, a Democratic lawmaker said yesterday.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said documents obtained by his panel suggest that the appearances by the drug control officials were part of a larger White House effort to politicize the work of federal agencies that "may be more widespread than previously known."
Waxman cited a memo written by former White House political director Sara M. Taylor showing that John P. Walters, director of the drug control office, and his deputies traveled at taxpayer expense to about 20 events with vulnerable GOP members of Congress in the three months leading up to the elections.
In a letter to Taylor, Waxman also pointed to an e-mail by an official in the drug policy office describing President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, as being pleased that the office, along with the Commerce, Transportation and Agriculture departments, went "above and beyond" the call of duty in arranging appearances by Cabinet members at campaign events.
"This recognition is not something we hear every day and we should feel confident that our hard work is noticed," said the e-mail, written by Douglas Simon, the drug policy office's White House liaison. "The director and the deputies deserve the most recognition because they actually had to give up time with their families for the god awful places we sent them."
The drug control office has had a history of being nonpartisan, and a 1994 law bars the agency's officials from engaging in political activities even on their own time.
Waxman's investigation is part of a broad effort by Congress to look into White House political involvement in federal agencies. So far, Democratic lawmakers have found evidence that White House officials were involved with the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and that Rove deputies made presentations to officials at the General Services Administration and other agencies about Democrats targeted for defeat by the GOP in 2008.
The new disclosure comes after former surgeon general Richard H. Carmona testified last week that the White House routinely blocked him from speaking out on politically sensitive public health matters such as stem cell research and abstinence-only sex education. Carmona also said he was asked to make appearances to help Republican candidates and discouraged from travel that might help a liberal politician.
In Waxman's letter to Taylor yesterday, he asked Taylor to voluntarily appear at a deposition July 24 and possibly testify before his committee the following week. He said the panel wants her to explain a memo she wrote indicating that Walters and his deputies made trips at the behest of the White House political office in the months prior to the crucial midterm elections.
"I recognize that federal political appointees have traveled to events with members of Congress in prior administrations," Waxman wrote in his letter to Taylor. "What is striking about your memo to ONDCP is the degree of White House control, the number of trips and the agency involved."
White House officials denied that Walters or other drug policy officials were directed to make appearances in an effort to prop up GOP candidates. Likewise, Taylor said through her attorney that she ran the White House political office no differently than her predecessors had under former presidents.
"Ms. Taylor believes she managed the Office of Political Affairs in a manner consistent with prior administrations, both Republican and Democratic," said lawyer W. Neil Eggleston, who added that he and his client "are considering" the committee's request that Taylor submit to a deposition.
"The information that Representative Waxman's committee posted today did not give any evidence that these anti-drug events were used to urge the election of any candidate," said Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman. "Director John Walters has traveled the country to meet with Democratic and Republican elected officials in communities hit hard by the scourge of drugs."
Stanzel noted that Walters participated in numerous anti-drug meeting with Democratic elected officials earlier in 2006. Among them were March 2006 appearances with then-Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, and appearances with Rep. Dennis Cardoza of California in May and Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street in July 2006.
But in the three months immediately leading up to the 2006 election, Walters or his deputies held events almost exclusively with GOP officials, many of whom were embroiled in tough reelection campaigns.
Two were held with then- Sen. James M. Talent of Missouri, who was defeated last November. At one of those stops, Walters announced that four Missouri counties had been designated part of a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which brings $500,000 in federal funding to help local law enforcement efforts, Waxman said. It was one of several grant announcements made while drug policy officials were appearing with GOP candidates.
Appearances also were held with Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio in Columbus and with then-Rep. Chris Chocola of Indiana in South Bend. Pryce narrowly won reelection, while Chocola lost in November.
"You included no Democrats or Independents in your memo of suggested travel for director Walters," Waxman said in his letter to Taylor.
The White House and drug policy officials, however, shrugged that off as a consequence of political reality.
"I don't think it is that surprising that during a campaign season when you're talking about events touting White House programs that Republicans are going to be more likely to appear with us than Democrats," said Tom Riley, a spokesman for the drug policy office. "Teen drug use is down. There has been a lot of progress. We're very happy and eager to do events with anyone. But it is more likely that Republicans are going to stand up with White House officials to talk about those successes."