Senate Finance Committee Investigations and Abuse of Power?

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baucus grassley.jpgThere are lots of folks who are frustrated with Montana Senator and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus at the moment — mostly on health care issues. One of the odd bottom lines for Max, however, is that the more frustrated Dems are with him on policy matters, the more solid his support is in Montana.
But I want to raise another issue that is not about policy — and is about abuse of power and pushing the investigatory part of “advice and consent” in presidential nominations to outrageous levels.
According to multiple sources, there is a staffer on the minority side of the Finance Committee who is going to absurd levels investigating the financial backgrounds of Obama administration nominees who fall under the jurisdiction of the committee.
Why is Max Baucus not confronting ranking Member Senator Chuck Grassley and this particular staffer with a direct confrontation about the absurdities and abuse that are now leaking out of the Committee?
Baucus is Chairman. He has real power. Is he using it? Is he afraid of Grassley and this staffer for some reason?
What I have learned is that a senior Obama administration official who has been languishing for some time in the Committee process — and who this country really does need in his/her job because of the consequential portfolio that needs management now — has had to put up with some of the most abusive and invasive investigations into financial matters of which I have ever heard.
This Committee staffer, in one example, wanted to see if the reporting of a “home office” on tax forms was legitimate. On the respective nominees, tax forms — a square footage and percentage of house allocated to the office were designated. So, the staffer actually sent someone to the nominee’s home to “measure” whether the square footage reporting was accurate or not. That’s right. . .they went out to “measure” the house.
But wait, it gets better.
Then the staffer challenged the “valuation” of the home — and the nominee showed the Committee staff the local government valuation and assessment of the home — which is a legal record.
The staffer subjectively asserted that the valuation was too high — and thus the deduction thus too high — and ordered that a new valuation of the home be done.
What in the hell is this? They disregarded official government valuations of a house?
And why are we taxpayers not only paying for the absurd abuse of power of a Congressional staffer who has so gone beyond any reasonable mandate that he should be seriously counseled (I won’t say terminated) but also losing out because this ridiculous process is holding up a key appointment that actually does matter for the affairs and interests of the United States.
Having been a Senate staffer, I don’t often want to be out there challenging staffers in Congress as they generally work hard, do great — often unrecognized — work for the nation, always in the names of their “bosses.”
But in this case, either Max Baucus has not figured out that he has the power to shut down and expose this abuse being done by staff, who minority or not, are still in his jurisdiction — or Chuck Grassley is derelict in his duty to hold his own staff to credible standards of performance.
Fix this problem — or some of us are going to start doing a lot more investigating of the so-called investigators. What I have learned over the last few days about Finance Committee investigations is really outrageous and deserves some serious investigative journalist sniffing.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

23 comments on “Senate Finance Committee Investigations and Abuse of Power?

  1. Ron Crocker says:

    If you want to talk about abuse of power by the minority member, do not neglect to talk about the chairman’s abuse of power by sic’ing the Center for Medicare Services on Humana for daring to disagree with baucus on his health care proposal. Worse still, he justified his referral with lies.
    Oh, I agree with your observations regarding the petty actions cited in the article.

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  2. Eli Rabett says:

    Remember Wen Hoo Lee, was he guilty? Of what?

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  3. Mr.Murder says:

    Woot!
    Perhaps the Presidente of the Senate could start using the application of vague constraint a La Cheney?
    I smell blood, bullfighting run amok, legislators trampled like a Barcelona street scene!

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  4. Steve Clemons says:

    Thanks Jake — appreciate your views, but will stay where I am on this for the moment. best, steve clemons

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  5. Jake Hausen says:

    Sorry, Steve, but I see you as an accessory to the crime, and your decision to keep the name secret. How different is that from Kneedpads Nancy, ol’ man Reid, or any other Rahmie DINO. What we need are whistelblowers not complicit, compromised stenographers.
    All that is need for evil to thrive is for the good people to do nothing. Thanks

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  6. rich says:

    US suspends $30 million to Honduras
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/04/world/americas/04honduras.html?_r=1&hp
    Since we’re a bit OT.
    That Senate staffer, though: were he to expose the perpetrators of wrongdoing, Steve’s access across the board would be compromised. Like Russert & Matt Cooper, Steve depends on anonyous sources, and blowing their cover would provoke a lot of anger. So there’s a whole level of activity that passes unremarked and unnoticed because Steve (& everyone) has their own agenda. Plenty of it rised to this level.
    ON another note, good news for Steve:
    U.S. government formalizes easing of Cuban travel restrictions
    Posted: 05:58 PM ET
    WASHINGTON (CNN) — The U.S. Treasury announced Thursday it has changed its regulations to carry out President Barack Obama’s April decision lifting restrictions on the ability of Cuban Americans to visit relatives in Cuba and send them money.
    A Treasury Department statement said the Office of Foreign Assets Control amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to implement Obama’s April 13 initiative.
    The change was made to “reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country’s future, promote greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba, and increase the flow of remittances and information to the Cuban people,” the statement said.
    Obama’s move was considered a significant shift in a U.S. policy that had remained largely unchanged for nearly half a century.
    According to Thursday’s Treasury statement, American travelers may now make unlimited visits to “close relatives” including aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins in Cuba who are Cuban nationals. In addition, Americans may send unlimited amounts of money to close relatives in Cuba who are Cuban nationals, the statement said.
    It noted that a separate ban on sending money to prohibited government officials and Cuban Communist Party members remains in effect.

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  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Diebold/Premier Election Systems is being purchased by Election Systems & Software (ES&S). According to a Black Box Voting source within the companies, there will be a conference call among key people at the companies within the next couple hours. An ES&S/Diebold-Premier acquisition would consolidate most U.S. voting under one privately held manufacturer. And it’s not just the concealed vote-counting; these companies now also produce polling place check-in software (electronic pollbooks), voter registration software and vote-by-mail authentication software.
    You can discuss this here:
    http://www.bbvforums.org/forums/messages/8/80622.html
    (If not registered or need to re-register because forgot your old login info, you can do that here:
    http://www.bbvforums.org/cgi-bin/forums/board-profile.cgi?action=register )

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  8. Linda says:

    POGO: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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  9. JohnH says:

    Max Baucus has become a major pain in the a**. But the blame can be shared. It could be just another sign of Obama (and Rahm’s) ineptitude. I mean, it’s not like Baucus was an unknown quantity. He’s been around for ages. If Obama didn’t understand his behavior, Kennedy could certainly have clued him in. And they could have devised a plan to deal with his obstructionism.
    The first rule of war is to know your enemy. And Obama seems to have failed that basic rule.

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  10. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    Out the petty little prick…put his tax returns under the microscope…people who suspect tax evasion often are projecting their own behavior.
    Meanwhile, back in the blogosphere, I recently read a phrase or two that put a smile on my face…”Throw Grassley Off The Train”..”Pull The Plug On Republicans”..
    Speaking of misplaced priorities, remember when Fitz was shifted from Plame/Rove to Chicago/Blogoyevish?
    I think this “nominee” should sell the movie rights to Monty Pytho. In my unprofessional opinion, I would say our “staffer in question” is suffering from the “Teeny-Weenie Peenie” Syndrome….Too much to prove.

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  11. Outraged American says:

    You have your chance TODAY to talk to a Sibel expert, use it!
    See above post from me, Presidentess for Life of Feminazia.

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  12. ... says:

    2 things… first off it seems partisan politics has come to define the usa.. 2ndly, their is another form of politics where both parties band together to not allow an examination of its own actions and this is where the sybil edmonds story comes in… they are both terrible precedents… on the one hand they don’t allow for openness and accountability and on the other, they encourage witch hunts like this… good luck with this steve… i like your approach but agree the sybil story is a bigger priority that’s being ignored… why?

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  13. Outraged American says:

    Philip Giraldi is going to talk about Sibel Edmonds’ recent
    testimony on the What Really Happened radio show TODAY from
    5 – 6 PM Central US time (6 PM Eastern, 3 PM Pacific) Thursday,
    September 3, 2009
    Giraldi, a former CIA counter-terrorism expert, has written
    extensively about the Sibel Edmond’s case.
    Stream the interview at http://whatreallyhappened.com/ on the
    right hand side. CALLERS ARE WELCOME!
    The show will be archived at:
    http://whatreallyhappened.com/radio
    POA, here’s your chance to talk to someone who knows and
    cares about Sibel’s testimony!

    Reply

  14. Dan Kervick says:

    This is a very constructive use for Steve’s blog, in my opinion. And I agree with the tactic of firing a shot across the bow first, and only naming names later if the behavior is not corrected.
    But POA is correct about the Sybil Edmonds matter. Now that the substance of her knowledge is finally part of the public record, there is no excuse for the media not looking further into the matter and elevating it to the attention it deserves.

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  15. Zathras says:

    Naming a staff member alleged to have engaged in the kind of abuse reported here is a judgement call. Senators are responsible for everything their staff does; if (as alleged) a staffer acting on authority granted by Sen. Grassley abuses that authority, it’s Sen. Grassley’s fault. It is also, of course, Sen. Baucus’s fault to some extent, because he is the Committee Chairman and the Finance Committee is responsible for providing advice and consent on nominations in a timely way. It’s not a matter of trying to look good for Montana’s conservative electorate (which would scarcely notice a story like this), but rather of whether Baucus is in charge of his own committee.
    There is a case for the other side, too, though. Staff on the Hill tend not to stay in their jobs as long as they used to; a few of them run for office themselves, some become lobbyists, many others migrate to the permanent campaign industry where their real interests may lie. The record they make early in their career is likely to be reflected in their later conduct, and what a grant of anonymity now may do is ensure that this later conduct comes as a surprise. It shouldn’t.
    I understand Steve Clemons’s position as a former Senate staffer. Also, he is much more familiar with the particulars of this case than I am, which would ordinarily dispose me to give his judgement the benefit of the doubt. However, as a former Senate staffer myself I’m not sure I agree with that judgement.
    Again assuming there is substance to the allegations he makes here (if there isn’t, both Clemon’s post and this one are at a minimum superfluous), the first check on staff abuse of authority — the Senator this particular staffer works for — has failed. The second — the committee chairman — has also failed. The third check, it seems to me, needs to be public accountability. A staffer who has exceeded his authority or otherwise acted in a way that brings discredit on the Senate is not entitled to a free, private warning or caution from the media, which includes bloggers like Steve Clemons whether they think of themselves that way or not. Just as important, though, public accountability can serve as a corrective for the Senators who allowed improper conduct to occur.
    I will await future posts on this subject with interest.

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  16. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “But don’t we want to encourage folks to expose the fascists, ahem, zealots in the totalitarian pursuit?”
    If your neighbor is cooking meth, has an under age girl living in a tent in the backyard, and you hear gunshots coming from the home every night, are you gonna call the cops because his dog just shit on your lawn?

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  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    A short list of concerns, headlines….
    *US Asks ‘Banned’ Blackwater to Continue in Iraq (While its founder is being investigated for various possible crimes, including murder)
    *Afghan Escalation: 14,000 More US Combat Troops (Is this what he was voted in to do?)
    *Israel May Retroactively OK Illegal Settlements (Thanks to the emboldening efforts of Ried, Hoyer, Cantor, and Huckabee)
    *Former Israeli Envoy Slams West for ‘Giving Iran Time’ (“Go directly to war, do not pass go”)
    *A Year On, Reuters Cameraman Still Held Without Charges or Explanation by US Army in Iraq (I hope we straighten this out, after Cuba adresses its “humanitarian area”)
    *Israelis Restrict Palestinians’ Water Supply (They’re just Paqlestinians, who really gives a shit whether or not they’ve got water? Besides, Israel is just defendinbg itself)
    This list could be three pages long, and this “transgression” by one of Grassley’s staffers would not merit a rank in the listing.
    Is this staffer’s conduct, (which Steve laments is “holding up the process” of an appointment), more egregious, and worthy of note, than Ried, Hoyer, Cantor and Huckabee actively working to DERAIL Obama’s foreign policy designs, as it applies to Isr/Pal???
    I’m sorry, but my disgust meter didn’t budge on this one. Grassley’s staffer’s actions don’t mean squat to the overall picture.
    Steve, I’m a bit curious. What is your connection to the targeted individual?

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  18. DonS says:

    POA, I get your point, and even see it’s merit. But in it’s own way, this bit of totalitarian-style behavior is shockingly corrosive on it’s face. Small potatoes? Perhaps on some scale. But don’t we want to encourage folks to expose the fascists, ahem, zealots in the totalitarian pursuit? I gotta say, this may be the most effective way of getting the problem dealt with. And put the creeps on notice. I can see the tentacles of this sort of behavior reaching deep into the governing process. If there is push back, or claims of innocent behavior or mistake, this gives more information. And if it gets escalated into a larger debate, then that is a debate worth having, on its own merits.

    Reply

  19. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Interesting. This seems very small potatoes when we compare it to the sworn testimony of Sybil Edmonds, or Holders’ disrepect for his own sworn duty as it applies to prosecuting KNOWN perjuries and acts of torture.
    When I see abuse ignored in one area, and abuse lamented in another, one really must ponder the motives behind the concern.
    “What I have learned is that a senior Obama administration official who has been languishing for some time in the Committee process — and who this country really does need in his/her job because of the consequential portfolio that needs management now — has had to put up with some of the most abusive and invasive investigations into financial matters of which I have ever heard”
    Someone in this situation has an axe to grind, and in typically Washington DC manner, it is being done in a petty and vindictive manner.
    But all in all, considering the crass lawlessness, narrowly focused dispensation of the law, and complete and utter disrespect that majority of Washington DC has for ethical conduct, this one gets a big yawn, and a muttered “Who really gives a damn?” I mean, its not like anyone is being tortured, blackmailed, bribed, or murdered is it? And if they are going to ignore the big shit, why sweat the small stuff? I can think of a milllion or so dead Muslims that might opine that petty and vindictive politicians don’t rate very high on the list of priorities Americans oughta be worried about. Its the perjuring treasonous sadistic warmongering monsters we should be concerning ourselves with.

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  20. Steve Clemons says:

    Wig – I’m not to the point of wanting to further expose the staffer. I want the abuse corrected – and this kind of thing being done on the Committee to cease. At this point, I am not going to name the staffer. Other media may choose to do that — but it doesn’t get the problem solved. best, steve

    Reply

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