H/T Universal Free Press
H/T Universal Free Press
In one of the biggest cheating scandals of its kind in the U.S., 11 former Atlanta public school educators were convicted Wednesday of racketeering for their role in a scheme to inflate students’ scores on standardized exams.
The defendants – including teachers, a principal and other administrators – were accused of falsifying test results to collect bonuses or keep their jobs in the 50,000-student Atlanta school system. The educators fed answers to students or erased and changed the answers on tests after they were turned in to secure promotions or up to $5,000 each in bonuses, the court was told.
However the person accused of benefiting the most from the conspiracy, Superintendent Beverly Hall – who is thought to have received up to $500,000 in bonus payouts – died of breast cancer over the course of the trial. A 12th defendant, a teacher, was acquitted of all charges by the jury this week. The 11 will all be sentenced on April 8 and could face up to 20 years in prison for the racketeering charges.
They were all found guilty under the the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, which is typically reserved for major mobsters and organized crime bosses.
‘This is a huge story and absolutely the biggest development in American education law since forever,’ said University of Georgia law professor Ron Carlson. ‘It has to send a message to educators here and broadly across the nation. Playing with student test scores is very, very dangerous business.’
The case stems from an investigation carried out in 2011, which uncovered evidence that the educators gave answers to students or changed answers on tests after they were turned in. Evidence of cheating was found in 44 schools, with nearly 180 educators involved, and investigators found teachers who tried to report it faced retaliation.
The Inspector General’s office charged with looking into the IRS targeting scandal has denied Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by The Hill pertaining to more than 500 correspondences between their office (known as TIGTA) and various Obama officials and IRS scandal players. Correspondent Bob Cusack reports on the latest stonewall:
The Obama administration is refusing to publicly release more than 500 documents on the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party groups. Twenty months after the IRS scandal broke, there are still many unanswered questions about who was spearheading the agency’s scrutiny of conservative-leaning organizations. The Hill sought access to government documents that might provide a glimpse of the decision-making through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The Hill asked for 2013 emails and other correspondence between the IRS and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). The request specifically sought emails from former IRS official Lois Lerner and Treasury officials, including Secretary Jack Lew, while the inspector general was working on its explosive May 2013 report that the IRS used “inappropriate criteria” to review the political activities of tax-exempt groups. TIGTA opted not to release any of the 512 documents covered by the request, citing various exemptions in the law. The Hill recently appealed the FOIA decision, but TIGTA denied the appeal. TIGTA also declined to comment for this article.
So in addition to the IRS “losing” and “accidentally” destroying certain communications attached to this scandal, the IG’s office is also blocking access to documents that do exist. I discussed these latest developments with AB Stoddard on Fox News earlier today:
Cusack’s story goes on to list the various reasons TIGTA cited in refusing to release any of the 512 documents:
In its written response to The Hill, TIGTA cited FOIA exemptions ranging from interagency communication to personal privacy. It also claimed it cannot release relevant documents “when interference with the law enforcement proceedings can be reasonably expected.” Yet, congressional Republicans say there is no evidence of any prosecution in the works, and media outlets have indicated that the Department of Justice and the FBI have already determined that no charges will be filed. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) notes that eight months after Lerner was held in contempt of Congress for not testifying at two hearings, the matter has not yet been referred to a grand jury.
They point to “personal privacy” concerns. If only the IRS had been equally concerned about conservative groups’ privacy before leaking donor lists to hostile rival organizations. And if only the IRS were sufficiently committed to privacy that they did not hire back hundreds of employees fired for cause, including improper use of taxpayers’ private information. Alas, different rules. Another excuse given is the ‘reasonable expectation’ of impending criminal proceedings, of which there have been zero indications thus far. As I noted in the segment, one can’t help but wonder if there’s any connection between the lack of charges and the status of the leader of the DOJ’s investigation as an Obama and Democratic donor over multiple election cycles. On one hand, there are no signs of any criminal prosecutions coming down the pike. On the other, the possibility that they might someday materialize is being held up as a cause to deny transparency requests. Neat trick, that. If and when the administration is asked about any of this, they will undoubtedly return to their old playbook, directing reporters to the tens of thousands of documents they’ve released, like these:
Last week, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said the IRS recently delivered 86,000 pages of new documents to the panel. Hatch added, “These documents… were given to us without notice or explanation roughly twenty months after we made our initial document request [on the targeting].”
You’re asking about a few hundred emails over here, but look over there at those tens of thousands of other emails we dumped without warning, nearly two years after they were requested! And of the document drop, who’s to say that the most relevant or damning emails weren’t deliberately excluded, as was the case in the Benghazi cover-up? I should point out that this lack of cooperation emanates from the Inspector General’s office, which is interesting, given the IG’s role as a pro-transparency watchdog. We don’t know nearly enough to impugn anyone’s motives within TIGTA at this point – recall that Democrats launched a shameful assault on the IG’s credibility when this scandal was a front-page story – but it’s not surprising that some Republicans are frustrated. And it’s not as if GOP lawmakers haven’t questioned TIGTA’s practices in the past: When the IRS scandal broke, it eventually became clear that the IG’s office and elements within the Obama administration knew of the agency’s abuse months prior to the 2012 election, but the scandal’s existence was successfully buried until the spring of 2013. Don’t forget, incidentally, that the White House’s official story on how any when they were made aware of the targeting practices shifted roughly half-a-dozen times before they finally settled on an answer. It also seems worthwhile to note that a separate Inspector General’s office came under withering criticism last year for a report on the VA scandal, the findings of which were reportedly watered down following political pressure from the Obama administration.
Inspectors general from a variety of different government agencies have testified before the House Oversight Committee, and new Chairman Jason Chaffetz, about the lack of cooperation and transparency from high ranking officials. In this first hearing of the 114th Congress Wednesday, 47 inspectors general were present from the Department of Commerce, Defense Intelligence, the EPA, the Equal Opportunity Commission, Homeland Security, NASA, and the Peace Corps.
Trey Gowdy was a guest on Tuesday’s edition of On The Record with Greta Van Susteren to explain that these IG’s are independent auditors who work for the taxpayers to find government waste, fraud, and abuse. Gowdy said these IG’s discovered the GSA, Fast and Furious, and IRS scandals. The Inspector General Act of 1978 states, in Section 6, that each inspector general is authorized to have access to all records, reports, documents, and materials. Gowdy said that these IG’s are not getting requested materials from the departments.
“The administration managed to bring all those different groups together, like they have never, not brought any other groups together; and they’re all in agreement that the administration is not giving them the documents they need,” the congressman said.
Gowdy suspects that some of these agencies are deliberately hiding information. He said that it may be necessary to threaten a department’s funding to coerce them into providing the requested documentation.
You have to hit them in the only place that anyone in Washington feels it which is in the back pocket. Get the appropriators in the House and the Senate involved and say if you don’t comply with this statute we’re going to cut your budget.
In the wake of the embarrassing revelation that Rep. Steve Scalise, the new House majority whip, has apologized because he very nearly spoke with a racist group 12 years ago, I feel that it’s time for me to confess a similar transgression – although, perhaps more serious, since I actually spoke with the group in question and I knew what I was doing at the time.
The group I addressed has devoted decades to advancing discriminatory policies that treat blacks and other minority groups as substandard, inferior and virtually handicapped compared with whites. What’s more they’re unrepentant, even proud of it.
Worse, the group has been responsible for racially segregating schools and neighborhoods, by literally funneling taxpayer dollars into substandard housing zones that become generational poverty traps for poor racial minorities.
In addition, the group has coordinated money, manpower and strategy with kindred organizations to block minority children from receiving a decent education, and to box out independent minority entrepreneurs from lucrative contracts that could lift them and their neighborhoods up from the bottom.
Worst of all, the group before which I spoke has successfully promoted and funded race-selective “medical procedures” which have resulted in the deaths of millions of black infants.
Yes, that’s right: I, Scott Ott, confess that some years ago, I spoke before a group of Democrats.
The investigator who led Homeland Security’s internal review of how the 2012 Secret Service prostitution scandal was handled has himself quit after he was reportedly spotted with a hooker.
Sheriff’s deputies in Broward County, Florida saw David Nieland entering and leaving a building that was under surveillance in a different prostitution investigation, officials told the New York Times.
Authorities later interviewed the prostitute and she identified a photograph of Nieland and said he had paid her for sex, the officials said.
Nieland resigned in August after he refused to answer questions from the Department of Homeland Security about the incident. A DHS spokesperson said they became aware of the incident in May.
Nieland has not been charged. Facebook posts suggest he is a married father.
It is not the first twist in the tale that has featured Nieland.
The investigator, who was the head of the inspector general’s Miami office, had been called in to review the 2012 investigation. Following the scandal, nine agents left the agency after it emerged that they had prostitutes in their rooms while in Cartagena, Colombia for a visit by President Obama.
But after the probe, it emerged that Nieland told congressional staffers that he had been pressured to cover up the fact that a White House volunteer also had a prostitute in his room.
Earlier this month, the volunteer was named as Jonathan Dach, 28, by the Washington Post. At the time, he was just 25 and a Yale University law student, but he now works for the State Department in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.
Nieland said he had been asked to delete the derogatory information from the 65-page public report, which was issued in September 2012, because it was potentially damaging to the administration just two months before the November election.
He said that when he and his colleagues questioned how the investigation was being handled, they were placed on administrative leave and removed from the report’s chain of command.
The congressional staffers said that no evidence supported his allegation and the volunteer was never charged. The White House also said it had not intervened in the report’s preparation.
Nieland has said that the prostitution allegation ‘is not true’ and declined to answer any questions, the New York Times reported.
He resigned on August 9, citing health problems, and later sent a tweet that his government career had ended. In August, he also thanked people on Twitter for their support about his ‘retirement’.
A Homeland Security Department spokesman, William O. Hillburg, confirmed to the Times that Nieland had resigned and that officials had become aware of an incident in Florida that involved one of its employees. Under law, no comment could be offered on a specific case, Hillburg said.
Thirteen Secret Service agents and officers were implicated in a prostitution scandal that arose from preparations for Obama’s trip in April 2012 to the seaside resort of Cartagena.
They were accused of carousing with female foreign nationals at a hotel where they were staying before Obama’s arrival. Nine of the officers and agents eventually left the agency – resigned, forced out or retired.
A media reporter with more than 30 years in the business submits that the latest scandal surrounding the Obama administration will not go away so easily because a mainstream outlet is covering it – and because it is easy for everyday Americans to comprehend.
Howard Kurtz, formerly of CNN and now with Fox News, believes the scandals related to Benghazi, the IRS, and the VA did not hold much water because for the most part, they only had “incremental evidence rather than a smoking gun.” But Kurtz asserts the White House scandal involving a prostitute and a presidential advance-team worker in Cartagena, Columbia might be different.
“The Secret Service debacle may be different. And the core of the latest story is easy for average Americans to understand: government officials and hookers.
“Most of the media, as I predicted, moved on after Julia Pierson was forced out as Secret Service chief. But not the Washington Post, which has been leading the pack with a series of exclusives.”
The Post reported Wednesday that White House aides knew a prostitute was an overnight guest in a hotel room of a presidential-advance team member in 2012, even though it was repeatedly denied by several other White House officials, including former Press Secretary Jay Carney.
David Nieland, who conducted the investigation of the incident in Cartegena for the inspector general’s office of Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said he felt pressure from his superiors to keep things under wraps until after the 2012 election.
“We were directed at the time… to delay the report of the investigation until after the 2012 election.”
Kurtz, who worked at The Washington Post himself as well as The Daily Beast/Newsweek and The Bergen Record in northern New Jersey, stressed the origins of the latest heartache for the Obama administration:
“Remember, this is not coming from some GOP congressman or right-wing website. It’s a careful[ly] worded story in a major newspaper whose earlier disclosures about the Secret Service were confirmed to the point that the president had to dump the director.
“Presidents can be unfairly blamed for everything under the sun. No commander-in-chief could single-handedly stop the spread of Ebola and force the Iraqis to effectively fight ISIS.
“But they are expected to run a competent government, and to have their staffs investigate scandals when they inevitably erupt – especially in an agency as sensitive as the Secret Service.
“This story, depending on how it plays out, could spell big trouble.”
On Tuesday, Breitbart.com reported that a senior communications aide to Attorney General Eric Holder mistakenly called the House oversight committee chair Darrell Issa’s office to discuss how they’d spin the IRS conservative targeting scandal. The DOJ aide thought he was talking to Democratic members on the committee.
DOJ Aide Brian Fallon Calls ISSA Office To Spin IRS Scandal – When he meant to call Democrats!
On Tuesday, Breitbart.com reported that a senior communications aide to Attorney General Eric Holder mistakenly called the House oversight committee chair Darrell Issa’s office to discuss how they’d spin the IRS conservative targeting scandal. The DOJ aide thought he was talking to Democratic members on the committee.
DOJ Aide Brian Fallon Calls ISSA Office To Spin IRS Scandal – When he meant to call Democrats!
A senior communications aide to Attorney General Eric Holder seemingly called House oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa’s staff by accident and asked for their help spinning new revelations about the IRS scandal, Issa said in a September 8 letter to Holder.
The aide, Brian Fallon, is a former senior aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and a well-known personality on Capitol Hill. The letter describes Fallon as “audibly shaken” when he realizes his request to leak documents to help get ahead of news stories about them was mistakenly made to the very office he was seeking to undermine. Issa believes the call was intended to be made to Democratic Rep. Elijah Cumming’s staff, the ranking member on the oversight panel, the letter said.
According to the letter, Fallon – who is not named in the letter but confirmed he made the call – asked if the aides could release the IRS scandal documents to “selected reporters” to give Fallon an “opportunity to comment publicly on it.”
Fallon explained to Issa aides that the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs had not permitted him to release the documents to the public and he wanted to get ahead of the story “before the Majority” – meaning Issa – could share it, according to the letter.
Issa aides – who had placed the call on speakerphone – were “caught off guard by the unusual nature of the call and the odd request” and asked Fallon to “e-mail the material for evaluation.”
“At this point,” Fallon “abruptly placed the call on hold for approximately three minutes.” When Fallon returned to the call, “he was audibly shaken. He immediately stated that there was a ‘change in plans’ and that there would be no effort” by DOJ to release the material early.
New IRS emails released by the House Oversight Committee show staff working for Democratic Ranking Member Elijah Cummings communicated with the IRS multiple times between 2012 and 2013 about voter fraud prevention group True the Vote. True the Vote was targeted by the IRS after applying for tax exempt status more than two years ago. Further, information shows the IRS and Cummings’ staff asked for nearly identical information from True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht about her organization, indicating coordination and improper sharing of confidential taxpayer information.
Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa, along with five Subcommittee Chairmen are demanding Cummings provide an explanation for the staff inquiries to the IRS about True the Vote and for his denial that his staff ever contacted the IRS about the group.
“Although you have previously denied that your staff made inquiries to the IRS about conservative organization True the Vote that may have led to additional agency scrutiny, communication records between your staff and IRS officials – which you did not disclose to Majority Members or staff – indicates otherwise,” the letter to Cummings states. “As the Committee is scheduled to consider a resolution holding Ms. Lerner, a participant in responding to your communications that you failed to disclose, in contempt of Congress, you have an obligation to fully explain your staff’s undisclosed contacts with the IRS.”
The first contact between the IRS and Cummings’ staffers about True the Vote happened in August 2012. In January 2013, staff asked for more information from the IRS about the group. Former head of tax exempt groups at the IRS Lois Lerner went out of her way to try and get information to Cummings’ office.The information Cummings received was not shared with Majority Members on the Committee.
On January 28, three days after staffers requested more information, Lerner wrote an email to her deputy Holly Paz, who has since been put on administrative leave, asking, “Did we find anything?” Paz responded immediately by saying information had not been found yet, to which Lerner replied, “Thanks, check tomorrow please.”
On January 31, Paz sent True the Vote’s 990 forms to Cumming’s staff.
Up until this point, Rep. Cummings has denied his staff ever contacted the IRS about True the Vote and their activities during Oversight hearings. In fact, on February 6, 2014 during a Subcommittee hearing where Engelbrecht testified, Cummings vehemently denied having any contact or coordination in targeting True the Vote when attorney Cleta Mitchell, who is representing the group, indicated staff on the Committee had been involved in communication with the IRS. This was the exchange:
Ms. Mitchell: We want to get to the bottom of how these coincidences happened, and we’re going to try to figure out whether any – if there was any staff of this committee that might have been involved in putting True the Vote on the radar screen of some of these Federal agencies. We don’t know that, but we – we’re going to do everything we can do to try to get to the bottom of how did this all happen.
Mr. Cummings. Will the gentleman yield?
Mr. Meadows. Yes.
Mr. Cummings. I want to thank the gentleman for his courtesy. What she just said is absolutely incorrect and not true.
After the hearing, Engelbrecht filed an ethics complaint against Cummings for his targeting and intimidation of her organization.
Rep. Cummings has described the investigation into IRS targeting of conservative groups as a “witch hunt,” and has tried multiple times to put the investigation on hold.
“These documents, indicating involvement of IRS officials at the center of the targeting scandal responding to your requests, raise serious questions about your actions and motivations for trying to bring this investigation to a premature end. If the Committee, as you publicly suggested in June 2013,’wrap[ped] this case up and moved on’ at that time, the Committee may have never seen documents raising questions about your possible coordination with the IRS in communications that excluded the Committee Majority,” the letter sent by Issa and the Chairmen further states. “As the Committee continues to investigate the IRS’s wrongdoing and to gather all relevant testimonial and documentary evidence, the American people deserve to know the full truth. They deserve to know why the Ranking Member and Minority staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform surreptitiously contacted the IRS about an individual organization without informing the Majority Staff and even failed to disclose the contact after it became an issue during a subcommittee proceeding…We ask that you explain the full extent of you and your staff’s communications with the IRS and why you chose to keep communications with the IRS from Majority Members and staff even after it became a subject of controversy.”
The House Oversight Committee will vote tomorrow about whether to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress.
A failure to scan outsourced medical records has caused an approximate three- to five-month backlog at the Memphis Veteran Administration Medical Center, The Daily Caller has learned.
TheDC was exclusively given a photo snapped of the medical records room on June 12, 2014. In the photo, hundreds of unprocessed medical records sit idly, causing delays of up to five months.
According to a whistle-blower who wished to remain anonymous because they are still employed by the Memphis VA Medical Center, the medical records room is for entering test results and other medical data that occurs after a patient is outsourced for medical tests or procedures.
A recent audit by the VA found the Memphis VA Medical Center had an average wait time for the initial appointment of fifty days, which flagged this facility for extra inspections.
The medical records shown in the photo are generated when the VA refers a patient to another hospital for further medical procedures. Medical tests like colonoscopies, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and X-rays, are among the tests that can be performed by an outside hospital, said the whistle-blower.
The outside hospital then sends their results back to the Memphis VA Medical Center, and those results are supposed to be scanned into the VA system.
Instead of being scanned in, the results are piling up, said the whistle-blower, causing further delays beyond the initial wait times.
“If you’re waiting for the results of a colonoscopy, [the added wait time is] the difference between life and death,” the whistle-blower told TheDC.
According to this whistle-blower, about an hour after TheDC sent VA communications officer Sandra Glover an email listing these charges, the medical records were moved from the medical records room and into the office of Rebecca England, the chief of Medical Records. Glover is a communications officer for the Veteran Integrated Services Network 9, which includes the Memphis VA Medical Center.
The Memphis VA Medical Center is now scrambling, asking dozens to work over-time in order to clear up the back log, and the VA police are investigating the source of the leak to TheDC, the whistle-blower noted.
TheDC sent a follow-up email to to Ms. Glover and she confirmed much of this story:
The Memphis VA Medical Center cares deeply for every veteran we are privileged to serve. Our goal is to provide the best quality care in a safe environment, as quickly and effectively as we can. After receiving the photograph you sent, we checked with the Memphis VA Medical Center to determine its validity and, if warranted, what actions could be taken to process those medical records as quickly as possible.
It was determined that the record – forwarded from the facility’s outpatient clinics – should have been processed, and subsequently the facility took the appropriate actions to scan them in to the electronic patient record. Memphis VA Medical Center hired a new supervisor two months ago in the patient records area and the consult process has been redesigned to better monitor timeliness. We continue to take action to strengthen oversight mechanisms to prevent delays.
While we regret that the files weren’t processed in a more timely fashion, this is an administrative function that did not impact patient outcomes. Critical clinical information was previously communicated with treating clinicians. In the end, these files have been addressed – which is what we want for the sake of all our patients. Thank you for your concern for our nation’s veterans and for bringing this to our attention.
TheDC spoke with a veteran who was likely affected by this backlog. Jesse Blakely served in the military in the early 1970s.
In November 2013, he walked into the Memphis VA Medical Center complaining of chest pains. After waiting several hours in the emergency room with no help, Blakely left and was treated at nearby Methodist Hospital.
Blakely said Methodist Hospital ran several tests as part of his treatment, but his follow-up appointment at the Memphis VA Medical Center didn’t occur until the beginning of June – more than six months later.
Blakely told TheDC that to add insult to injury, even though he was initially assured by the VA that his medical bills would be covered, he’s since been charged for his trip to the Methodist Hospital emergency room.
Earlier in June, TheDC broke exclusively that in 2010, the same Memphis VA Medical Center approved over $1 million in bonuses while closing a therapy pool just a few months later citing a lack of funds. Bill O’Reilly used that report as the basis of his “Is it Legal” segment the next day.
A staffer at the House Veteran Affairs Committee told TheDC the committee was unaware of any other VA hospitals where outsourced medical tests were causing back logs.
The IRS Conservative Targeting Scandal involved:
Hundreds of conservative groups were targeted
At least 5 pro-Israel groups
Groups that criticized Obama administration
At least two pro-life groups
An 83 year-old Nazi concentration camp survivor
A 180 year-old Baptist paper
A Texas voting-rights group
A Hollywood conservative group was targeted and harassed
Conservative activists and businesses
At least one conservative Hispanic group
IRS continued to target groups even after the scandal was exposed
10% of Tea Party donors were audited by the IRS
And… 100% of the 501(c)(4) Groups Audited by IRS Were Conservative
After a year of delays the Obama IRS says it lost Lois Lerner’s emails in a computer crash.
Today, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) issued the following statement regarding the Internal Revenue Service informing the Committee that they have lost Lois Lerner emails from a period of January 2009 – April 2011. Due to a supposed computer crash, the agency only has Lerner emails to and from other IRS employees during this time frame. The IRS claims it cannot produce emails written only to or from Lerner and outside agencies or groups, such as the White House, Treasury, Department of Justice, FEC, or Democrat offices.
“The fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable and now calls into question the credibility of the IRS’s response to Congressional inquiries. There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the Inspector General.
“Just a short time ago, Commissioner Koskinen promised to produce all Lerner documents. It appears now that was an empty promise. Frankly, these are the critical years of the targeting of conservative groups that could explain who knew what when, and what, if any, coordination there was between agencies. Instead, because of this loss of documents, we are conveniently left to believe that Lois Lerner acted alone. This failure of the IRS requires the White House, which promised to get to the bottom of this, to do an Administration-wide search and production of any emails to or from Lois Lerner. The Administration has repeatedly referred us back to the IRS for production of materials. It is clear that is wholly insufficient when it comes to determining the full scope of the violation of taxpayer rights.”
This is unbelievable.
As news breaks that the IRS is claiming to have lost 2 years worht of Lois Lerner’s Emails to Outside Agencies Are Gone, Representative Jason Chaffetz took to Twitter to point out previous testimony in which it was claimed Lerner’s emails were archived.
A veteran IT professional tells TheBlaze that the IRS’ claim that the agency lost two years’ worth of former IRS official Lois Lerner’s emails is “simply not feasible.”
On Friday, members of Congress revealed that the IRS would not be able to hand over Lerner’s emails to and from other IRS employees from January 2009 to April 2011, possibly due to a “glitch” or “crash.” Lawmakers were seeking the emails as part of their investigation into the IRS targeting scandal.
Norman Cillo, an Army veteran who worked in intelligence and a former program manager at Microsoft, argued it is very difficult to lose emails for good and laid out six reasons why he believes Congress is “being lied to” about the Lerner emails:
1. I believe the government uses Microsoft Exchange for their email servers. They have built-in exchange mail database redundancy. So, unless they did not follow Microsofts recommendations they are telling a falsehood. You can see by the diagram below that if you have three servers in a DAG you have three copies of the database.
2. Every IT organization that I know of has hotswappable disk drives. Every server built since 2000 has them. Meaning that if a single disk goes bad it’s easy to replace.
3. ALL Servers use some form of RAID technology. The only way that data can be totally lost (Meaning difficult to bring back) is if more than a single disk goes before the first bad disk is replaced. In the diagram below you can see that its possible to lose a single disk and still keep the data.
4. If the server crashed (Hardware failure other than disks), then the disks that contain the DATA for the Exchange database is still available because the server hardware and disks are exchangeable. Meaning that if I have another server with the same hardware in it, I can put the disks in and everything should boot right up.
5. All email servers in a professional organization use TAPE backup. Meaning if all the above fails, you can restore the server using the TAPE backups.
6. If they are talking about her local PC, then it’s a simple matter of going to the servers which have the email and getting them from the servers. If the servers have removed the data you can still get them by using the backups of the servers to recover the emails.
However, Cillo, who has been working in IT for roughly 16 years and is currently a consultant for a tech company, said it’s possible the IRS is telling the truth if the federal agency is “totally mismanaged and has the worst IT department ever.”
Other than that, it’s just not “feasible,” he told TheBlaze. “If the IRS’ email server is in such a state that they only have one copy of data and the server crashes and it’s gone, I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“I don’t know of any email administrator that doesn’t have at least three ways of getting that mail back,” he added. “It’s either on the disks or it’s on a TAPE backup someplace or in an archive server. There are at least three ways the government can get those emails.”
A Taliban commander close to the negotiations over the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl told TIME Thursday that the deal made to secure Bergdahl’s release has made it more appealing for fighters to capture American soldiers and other high-value targets.
“It’s better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people,” the commander said, speaking by telephone on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. “It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird.”
The commander has been known to TIME for several years and has consistently supplied reliable information about Bergdahl’s captivity.
The U.S. agreed on May 31 to exchange five Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for Bergdahl, America’s only living prisoner of war. Following the deal, the outpouring of relief by those who had long lobbied to “Bring Bowe Home” was soon eclipsed by accusations and recriminations as Republican lawmakers accused the administration of making a dangerous precedent.
“What does this tell terrorists?,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz said on ABC’s This Week the day after Bergdahl’s release. “That if you capture a U.S. soldier, you can trade that soldier for five terrorist prisoners?”
The Obama administration largely bypassed the intelligence community to green-light the risky swap of five Taliban leaders for American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, officials tell Fox News, as new details emerge about concerns with the deal at the highest levels of President Obama’s team.
A military intelligence source also confirmed to Fox News that a second option – involving the payment of a cash ransom for Bergdahl’s freedom – was pursued as late as December 2013.
The source said the goal was to reach out to Pakistan leadership with direct ties to the Taliban, and float the possibility of trading cash, instead of prisoners, for Bergdahl. That option, though, was put “on hold” in December when it was made clear the administration intended to pursue a prisoner swap.
Intelligence officials confirmed to Fox News that the Bergdahl prisoner swap was then on an accelerated track, and no formal assessment of the entire intelligence community was conducted. This made the opportunity to push back against the transfer extremely limited.
Further, top officials including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta were firmly against the proposed transfer in 2012 after it was first floated.
The details add to concerns that the White House and others involved in the decision did not adequately assess the risks before springing five senior Taliban leaders from Guantanamo over the weekend.
“I think he bypassed the intelligence community,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told Fox News. “I believe he bypassed Congress because this was done for political reasons. There was no policy justification for this.”
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, claimed the freed Taliban members are likely more dangerous now than they were when they were captured.
“This is Mullah Omar’s board of directors, it’s his fab five team,” he told Fox News, referring to the Taliban leader. Chambliss has called on the administration to declassify the files on the five men.
The Washington Post reports that Panetta and Clapper weren’t the only ones who had misgivings about a prisoner trade after it first came up. According to an article on Wednesday, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also opposed the original terms of the prisoner exchange deal.
It’s unclear how the terms may have changed since then, and whether different Guantanamo prisoners were considered since the original plan emerged.
Clapper’s office and other intelligence agencies have been notably quiet since the prisoner trade was announced over the weekend. In a brief statement, a spokesman for Clapper said he had concerns but the conditions of the transfer limited the risk.
One Gulf official, though, was quoted by Reuters on Tuesday saying the Taliban leaders would be free to move about in Qatar – where they are staying – for a year, and then would be allowed to travel outside the country.
In an apparent attempt to turn the transfer into propaganda, the Taliban have also released a video showing the handover of Bergdahl into U.S. custody. It was emailed to media outlets on Wednesday – a Pentagon spokesman said they have “no reason to doubt [its] authenticity.”
According to Time magazine, the decision to proceed with the transfer was ultimately made among top officials on Obama’s national security team.
Given past opposition to the plan, though, one unidentified official told Time: “This was out of the norm.” The official said the White House and State Department had previously urged the military to “suck it up and salute.”
Members of Congress who were first briefed on a possible trade more than two years ago voiced similar concerns.
House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday the administration “never satisfactorily answered” lawmakers’ questions and concerns that surfaced from the beginning about the proposed trade. Further, Boehner alleged that the only reason the administration failed to notify Congress is “the administration knew it faced serious and sober bipartisan concern and opposition.”
President Obama’s aides met with unanimous opposition from Congress when they first raised the possibility of releasing five Taliban guerrillas from Guantanamo Bay in 2011 and 2012, and administration officials publicly and repeatedly vowed to return to Capitol Hill before making any final moves.
But with what they now say was a closing window to secure the release of ArmySgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Mr. Obama made the call to bypass Congress and make a deal swapping the five Taliban fighters in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl – and sparking a major constitutional battle with Congress.
With anger boiling over, the administration dispatched officials to deliver a closed-door briefing to senators late Wednesday, but many lawmakers emerged to say they still have too many unanswered questions about the legality of Mr. Obama’s move, the details of Sgt. Bergdahl’s capture and the likelihood that the five Taliban will return to the battlefield.
“I think there’s still an awful lot that has to be looked into. There’s a lot of information that came out of this, but this is something that is extremely disturbing. It’s something that needs to be looked into, and I came out of there with more questions than I got answers,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat.
Lawmakers were shown a short video that the Taliban-aligned group holding Sgt. Bergdahl provided as “proof of life,” and several lawmakers said the soldier did appear to be unwell in the video – countering speculation from some corners that his health situation was not as desperate as the administration had suggested.
But the administration made little headway in convincing senators that it was a good decision to release the five Taliban members, who have been sent to Qatar, where they are supposed to be monitored for a year but seem to be living openly.
“I promise you, in a year from now, if not before, they will be back in Afghanistan and in the fight,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.
In an earlier closed-door briefing, officials even confirmed there was a great likelihood some of them will return to war-fighting, a possibility Mr. Obama himself had acknowledged earlier this week.
“I think the White House was looking for a twofer, to announce in one week that we were going to withdraw from Afghanistan, ending the longest war in U.S. history and, oh, by the way, as commander in chief I secured the last captive – the only captive – of that war. That was in their mind a pretty good political story for that week. It blew up in their face,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican and vice chairman of the intelligence committee, called on Mr. Obama to declassify the prisoner review files kept on each of the five Taliban.
He said Americans will see from the files that the men had been deemed too dangerous to release – if Mr. Obama approves declassifying the documents.
“Every prisoner at Guantanamo has a file. That file is updated every so often. What we’re asking for is that file on those five prisoners, with the recommendations of the review committee spelled out as to their opinion of what should happen with these guys. And their opinion – it’s already been stated publicly – is these five guys should have been held indefinitely,” the Georgian said.
In another sign of the growing skepticism about the prisoner swap, Sgt. Berdahl’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho, announced Wednesday that it had canceled plans for a welcome-home celebration. The town of 8,000 said it was not sure it could handle the expected crowds and pro- and anti-Bergdahl demonstrations at the planned June 28 event.
The split was reflected in two public opinion polls released Wednesday. A Fox News survey had 47 percent of Americans disapproving of the swap, while 45 percent approves. And a Rasmussen poll showed a similar split, with 40 percent agreeing with the government’s decision and 43 percent disagreeing.
But both surveys had error margins larger than those gaps that favor the “disapprove” answer, meaning those edges are statistically insignificant and the public is essentially evenly split.
Sgt. Bergdahl disappeared from night guard duty at a remote outpost roughly two hours south of the Afghan city of Sharana on June 30, 2009. Comrades said they found his gear – save for his compass – neatly stacked, which they took to be a signal that he had left of his own accord.
Some of those comrades say American lives were lost in the ensuing search for someone they termed a “deserter.”
A Pentagon official, who spoke under condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said that Sgt. Bergdahl maintained a status of “Missing-Captured” but was not considered to be a deserter during the time he was being held by the Islamist militia.
Sgt. Bergdahl could, if the Army deems appropriate, receive a promotion to staff sergeant “in accordance with Army policy for captured personnel,” the official said.
Debate over whether to make the exchange has raged – within the administration and between it and Congress – since 2011.
Mr. Chambliss said that when the possibility of releasing the five Taliban fighters was raised, there was unanimous opposition from those in Congress who were briefed on it.
In the years since, both State Department and White House officials went on record saying that any final decision would be made in consultation with Congress and in accordance with the law, which requires Mr. Obama to give Congress 30 days’ notice before releasing detainees from Guantanamo.
The White House has argued that the short window of time to seal the deal for Sgt. Bergdahl’s release created extenuating circumstances – though they also argue that the previous secret briefings with Congress in 2011 and 2012 constituted consultation.
With questions about the legal situation mounting this week, a White House official said the Defense Department “consulted” with the Justice Department but declined to say whether a formal legal opinion was produced justifying the decision to bypass Congress.
“We’re not going to get into the details of our internal legal deliberations,” the official said.
The Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Times.
After initial reports of dissent, the administration presented a unified front Wednesday, including pushing back on press reports that Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper had initially rejected the release of the five Taliban fighters.
“Like others, DNI Clapper expressed concern in 2012 about the prospect of releasing these five detainees. However, the circumstances have changed dramatically,” Shawn Turner, the chief spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said in a statement.
Mr. Turner said Mr. Clapper was swayed by Sgt. Bergdahl’s deteriorating health, the assurances of the Qatari government that the five will be monitored and the ongoing drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which Mr. Clapper argued would make recovery efforts for Sgt. Bergdahl tougher.
Several Democratic leaders in the Senate also defended the administration’s moves.
“It was a very complex negotiation. It was a last-minute negotiation, and as we heard more and more detail and circumstances, I think it was a lot different than we’ve seen in the press,” Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin said as he emerged from the evening briefing.
“I think it was a very hard decision. If I’d been challenged to make it myself, I might have come to the same conclusion under the pressure of the moment,” the Illinois Democrat said. “But now that you can step back and reflect on it, it’s easy to pick it apart and criticize it.”
Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democrats’ leader in the chamber, said GOP critics were trying to harm Mr. Obama politically.
“It’s clear they’re worried his release could be seen as a victory for President Obama. Let me put that notion to rest – it’s not a victory for President Obama. It’s a victory for our soldiers, their families and the United States of America,” he said. “No member of the armed forces should be left behind, and President Obama saw to that.”
Yesterday Obama administration official Brandon Friedman floated the idea that Bowe Bergdahl was justified in deserting his platoon in Afghanistan and joining the Taliban over disagreements with the platoon’s “psychopath” leadership.
Here’s the thing about Bergdahl and the Jump-to-Conclusions mats: What if his platoon was long on psychopaths and short on leadership? (1/5)
11:44 PM – 4 Jun 2014
120 Retweets 21 favorites
Brandon Friedman, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs for the Department of Housing and Urban Development posted a series of tweets Wednesday evening.
Friedman speculated that Bergdahl deserted over bad leadership of his platoon and that is why his fellow soldiers were smearing him.
This morning Brandon Friedman deleted his bio – His anti-military tweets are still posted.
Right Wing M nailed it:
68 Retweets 19 favorites
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin says Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is clearly a deserter who should never draw a free breath, and President Obama is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors for once again ignoring federal law in pursuit of an administration goal.
Boykin is also ripping the president for releasing five key Taliban figures in exchange for Bergdahl and slamming the Obama administration for attacking the character of Afghanistan veterans who publicly denounce Bergdahl’s actions in Afghanistan.
The general said Obama’s actions in this episode demonstrate why he is unfit for office. He categorically dismissed Obama’s contention that the exchange had to happen to honor America’s commitment to leave no Americans behind. Boykin said that clearly wasn’t true in Benghazi and that the administration seems to have little regard for a U.S. Marine jailed in Mexico, an American pastor imprisoned in Iran or the Sudanese Christian in custody for her faith along with her two American children.
“This was about emptying out Guantanamo,” he said. “This was a backdoor deal. The reasons for it, the details of it will probably never come out in its entirety, but this is an ugly story.”
The general is also taking the commander in chief to task for once again flouting the law, this time skirting a requirement to give Congress 30 days notice of his intent to free any Guantanamo detainees. Boykin said he understands why Obama would feel constrained by the law and admits that it might not be constitutional. However, as long as it is the law, he said Obama is required to abide by it instead of ignoring statutes he doesn’t like, whether on this issue or several others.
“It was really bad form for him not to at least call in the chair and ranking member of the intel or armed services committee and tell them what he was about to do with regard to the release of these prisoners,” he said.
“It’s an example of how this president only obeys the laws and follows the policies that he wants to. In our Constitution, it falls under the category of high crimes and misdemeanors, where you just selectively obey certain laws and ignore others.”
As for Bergdahl, Boykin said he has no doubt the soldier ended up in Taliban custody because he deliberately deserted his unit.
“We know for sure that he is a deserter,” Boykin said. “In fact, the 15-6 investigation that was conducted immediately after his departure from his base concluded that he had deserted, and I think all the evidence supports that conclusion, particularly given the fact that he had asked a series of bizarre questions of his teammates. He also left a very revealing message explaining how he was ashamed of being an American and wanted to help the people of Afghanistan. This guy’s a deserter.”
Boykin added, “The fact that (National Security Adviser) Susan Rice went on television and said that served honorably is just another example of why she needs to be removed and replaced, because this is the second time, Benghazi being the first, where she has gone on television and openly lied to the American public. This administration knows he deserted. They knew how people felt about him, and she went out there and called his service honorable. If that’s the case, then you tell me what the concept of honorable service is for this administration.”
The term “desertion” has been used far and wide in media reports this week. While no one applauds a soldier abandoning his unit, considerable debate has ensued about how significant of an issue this ought to be.
Boykin said it’s an extremely serious issue.
“Desertion in combat – and I emphasize in combat, which means you are in a combat zone and routinely engaged with the enemy – is punishable by death,” he said. “That should give you some indication as to how serious this is taken. When a man walks off and leaves his post in combat, he jeopardizes everybody else.”
Boykin said, in addition to leaving his men shorthanded against the enemy, Bergdahl compromised military intelligence, whether he willingly went along with the Taliban or was interrogated.
“You have a tremendous amount of information, which would be very useful to the enemy,” Boykin said. “Whether he was a collaborator or not is yet to be determined. My guess is that he was. Even if he was not a deliberate collaborator, the interrogation techniques of these people is such that he probably provided an awful lot of very useful, valuable information to the enemy.”
So what should happen to Bergdahl as a result of his desertion?
“They should do an Article 32 investigation immediately. It should be ongoing right now. That is a prelude to a court-martial. There can be no other option. They must take him to court-martial, and they must hold him accountable for his actions. If he didn’t desert, then the truth will come out,” said Boykin, who explained that Bergdahl’s actions are even more severe than desertion.
“There are are other soldiers that were endangered and even some we are positive now that were killed in the efforts to find him,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, that exacerbates his crime from being a simple desertion to being one that resulted in the deaths of his comrades. I think that has to be considered as we talk about what to do with him. From my perspective, he needs to spend the rest of his life in prison at a minimum.”
At least one of the other soldiers who served alongside Bergdahl in Afghanistan believes this is a case of desertion at best and treason at worst.
Is Boykin willing to go that far?
“Absolutely. What else could you call it?” he asked
At least a half-dozen soldiers who served with Bergdahl are speaking publicly. They all consider him a deserter and not the hero portrayed by the administration. In response, the State Department accuses those veterans of not telling the truth, and White House aides tell reporters that their criticism amounts to a swift-boating of Bergdahl, a reference to the criticism Vietnam veterans leveled at John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign.
“Do you think if Bergdahl had served honorably that those guys wouldn’t be coming out now rejoicing in the fact he had been returned?” Boykin asked. “Use a little common sense and just ask yourself: Would they have had this reaction had he not deserted his unit?”
Boykin is appalled that Bergdahl’s return also came at the cost of five high-level Taliban leaders being held at Guantanamo Bay. The general said he would not even have paid such a price for an honorable soldier being held by the enemy, but he would have quickly gathered intelligence by which to launch a rescue mission. He believes the military knew exactly where Bergdahl was but didn’t have any motivation to go get him.
“That’s what should have happened if this was a man with honorable service. He wasn’t,” Boykin said. “So you have to ask the question, ‘Why didn’t the military go and try to rescue him?’ I’m going to speculate that it’s because they were not willing to risk another life for a guy they knew was a traitor.”
There’s something very odd going on these days at the White House.
How else to explain the Bowe Bergdahl debacle? Team Obama, which games every move it makes to gauge the political leverage gained or lost, must have known the true story about the Army sergeant who his former comrades say was disgruntled with the war and simply walked away.
If the charge of desertion is true, why trade five top-level Taliban terrorists for him? Why would the White House expose itself to such easy criticism? Why would President Obama so clearly violate the law that requires him to notify Congress 30 days before any release of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay?
And why on earth would the president send National Security Adviser Susan Rice, she of the multiple lies on the Benghazi attack that left four Americans dead, to the Sunday talk shows to proclaim that Sgt. Bergdahl had “served the United States with honor and distinction”?
There can be only one answer: Mr. Obama saw more upside than down with the hostage-for-terrorists trade. Aside from changing the subject from the president’s latest scandal – the horrendous treatment of veterans at the nation’s VA hospitals – Mr. Obama must have concluded that the controversial move would, in the end, deliver him political leverage against Republicans, which he sorely needs going into what is expected to be a bloodbath for Democrats on Election Day 2014.
Of course, part of the calculation was that the U.S. media would once again defend Mr. Obama. And while some news outlets have run stories about the puzzling details behind Sgt. Bergdahl’s “capture,” others are adhering to the White House talking points.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post said “the long arc of Bergdahl’s deployment and captivity is being scrutinized in light of the rising, mostly partisan debate.” The White House calculation was no doubt that Republicans would object to the swap, allowing the president to charge that the GOP will “say no” to anything – even the release of an American soldier.
The New York Times on Monday disputed reports that some U.S. soldiers were killed searching for Bergdahl. And ABC News has moved on altogether, opening its Tuesday nightly news with a story about a big hailstorm in Nebraska.
That the White House had gamed out every scenario for the post-release spin was evident Sunday, when Mrs. Rice and other Democrats hewed closely to talking points: That Sgt. Bergdahl was a “prisoner of war,” not a “hostage”; that his “deteriorating health” made the swap so urgent there was simply no time to notify Congress; that questions about the Army sergeant are “not the point,” as Mrs. Rice said, “The point is that he is back.”
What then of congressional objections? Even top Democrats, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she wasn’t notified of the swap. The takeaway: Mr. Obama is more willing to negotiate with the Taliban than Congress.
But the White House conclusion on lawmakers was this: Let ‘em whine. Their approval rating is in single digits, so no one cares what Congress thinks.
Still, there’s this: The White House must have known that first-hand accounts of Sgt. Bergdahl and his disgruntlement with America would eventually make the press. Even though Army colleagues were ordered to sign nondisclosure agreements, Team Obama had to know that if Sgt. Bergdahl suddenly became a “hero,” members of his platoon would be outraged and talk, damn the consequences.
Mr. Obama must have also known that more details would emerge, like the fact that top Pentagon and intelligence community officials had nixed previous deals for the five terrorists, citing top-secret information. Time magazine reported that in the end, the White House and State Department won by arguing that the military should “suck it up and salute.”
So the question that remains is: Could Mr. Obama and his advisers have so miscalculated the swap? Is the terrorist trade just another example of a Year Six president drunk with power, taking advice from a handful of sycophantic yes men on the couches in the Oval Office?
“We are going to learn the facts on what happened here,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said Tuesday. “We do not know the fact pattern yet.”
But the White House is delivering its own “fact pattern,” so far being followed by the media. And the Sgt. Bergdahl saga is playing out almost exactly like the aftermath of Benghazi, right down to lies from Mrs. Rice. Mr. Obama and his fellow Democrats are painting Republicans as purely partisan. Soon, the entire mess will be plunged into a “blue ribbon investigation,” allowing administration officials to refuse comment.
Mr. Obama is all about the politics. The White House has done this time after time with scandal after scandal. They know how to play the game. And despite appearances now, this whole saga is going along as planned.
The president may be incompetent, but he’s not stupid. He’s just counting on the American people to be.
Fox News reporter James Rosen claimed intelligence sources have told him not only that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl willingly collaborated with the Taliban, but that his involvement with the terrorist group may be “as serious as you can imagine.”
Rosen spoke with Bill O’Reilly Wednesday night about his ongoing conversations with intelligence and Pentagon officials regarding both old and new investigations into Bergdahl’s likely desertion and possibly treasonous activities.
“My reporting has shown that the intelligence community also undertook a separate [from the Army] investigation of Sgt. Bergdahl,” Rosen explained, “both his final period of active duty that culminated in that mysterious evening, and also his conduct over the past five years, which is said to have been a period of captivity.”
“Alright, now why would – you say the intelligence, I assume that’s defense intelligence, the CIA, all those people – why would they bother investigating a sergeant who was taken captive?” O’Reilly asked. “I mean, why would they spend those resources?”
“Well, with greatest proximity, because they were tasked with doing so,” Rosen responded cagily. “But my reporting on this is that there are many inside the intelligence community who harbor outstanding concerns not just that Sgt. Bergdahl may have been a deserter, but that he became an active collaborator with the enemy.”
The reporter reiterated information regarding Bergdahl’s emails, the packing up of his personal effects, his failure to take certain equipment with him before he left his post and “anecdotal evidence” from Taliban commanders – including how Bergdahl taught Islamist fighters how to reprogram a mobile phone into an IED.
“The last thing I will tell you is – I’m still working on this story, I’m talking to a broad range of sources in and out of the government, in and out of the military,” Rosen explained. “And all I will say is, there are many forms that active collaboration can take. I’m investigating claims that it could go as serious as you could imagine.”
It’s mind-boggling how clueless this administration is. In reality it does nothing except encourage the Taliban to kidnap more U.S. soldiers.
[I]nside the administration, the calculations over Bergdahl’s fate were complicated by seemingly unrelated events, including the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011, when U.S. forces traveled deep into Pakistan and killed the al-Qaeda leader. The operation infuriated Pakistan’s government and raised fears among U.S. officials that their uncertain ally’s already mixed support for the war effort would wane further.
Around that time, U.S. officials began to contemplate an operation to rescue Bergdahl, according to a former senior administration official who participated in the discussions.
At least twice before Bergdahl’s release, U.S. officials had a possible fix on where he was being held, but some administration officials familiar with the intelligence said there were gaps that left his circumstances unclear. And there were strong voices opposed to an operation, led by then-national security adviser Thomas Donilon and his deputy, Denis McDonough, who is now White House chief of staff.
Their concern, the official said, was further angering Pakistan’s government and spy agency, which has close connections to the Haqqani network.
Those who supported a rescue operation included Adm. Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then-CIA Director Leon E. Panetta. Their argument in favor of a high-risk, lower-reward operation than the bin Laden raid eventually failed.
During the same debate, officials were considering the emerging prisoner-exchange proposal. White House advisers believed that a successful exchange would not only free Bergdahl but would also encourage moderate Taliban members to take an Afghan-led reconciliation process seriously.
Reporting from just outside the Landstuhl military hospital in Germany, NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel says that the media is receiving more information about the release of Sgt. Bergdahl from the Taliban than from our own government.
Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski also noted how difficult it is to get information from the Administration, save for the few press releases it periodically releases.
How does it look for the “most transparent administration in history” when a reporter says it is providing less information than a terrorist organization? Whatever it is, it can’t be good.
The Obama administration passed up multiple opportunities to rescue Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl because the president was dead-set on finding a reason to begin emptying Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a Pentagon official.
‘JSOC went to the White House with several specific rescue-op scenarios,’ the official with knowledge of interagency negotiations underway since at least November 2013 told MailOnline, referring to the Joint Special Operations Command. ‘But no one ever got traction.’
‘What we learned along the way was that the president wanted a diplomatic scenario that would establish a precedent for repatriating detainees from Gitmo,’ he said.
The official said a State Department liaison described the lay of the land to him in February, shortly after the Taliban sent the U.S. government a month-old video of Bergdahl in January, looking sickly and haggard, in an effort to create a sense of urgency about his health and effect a quick prisoner trade.
‘He basically told me that no matter what JSOC put on the table, it was never going to fly because the president isn’t going to leave office with Gitmo intact, and this was the best opportunity to see that through.’
While military commanders wavered on the value of rescue plans, a second Pentagon source said Wednesday, they were advised by their chain of command that the White House was pushing hard for a prisoner swap, over the objections of the intelligence community.
That official told MailOnline that at least two separate intelligence agencies cautioned against taking the January video at face value.
The Daily Beast reported Monday, however, that the White House moved the process along too fast to permit a formal intelligence assessment of the impact of allowing what some on Capitol Hill are now calling the Taliban’s ‘dream team’ to return to the Middle East.
Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News on Wednesday that the Obama administration ‘bypassed the intelligence community’ to make the deal, adding that ‘I believe he bypassed Congress because this was done for political reasons. There was no policy justification for this.’
The result, according to multiple published reports, was an environment in which the White House could insist on moving forward quickly on the basis that a soldier’s health was at immediate risk – using that justification also to explain its failure to keep Congress informed.
The White House has yet to explain why the deterioration of Bergdahl’s health, seen in a video in January, was sufficient reason to steamroll a decision that ended up taking four months to execute.
In a video distributed Wednesday morning by the Taliban, Bergdahl appeared to be strong and in good health as he was handed over to U.S. Special Forces on Saturday
The Washington Times reported that a congressional aide said JSOC never forwarded specific military rescue plans to the White House, judging independently that President Obama was more interested in a diplomatic solution.
But both the Times’ sources and MailOnline’s also agreed that commanders on the ground were not in favor of sending Special Forces into the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region and risking their lives to rescue a presumed deserter from the terrorist Haqqani network.
‘Military commanders were loath to risk their people to save this guy,’ a former intelligence official told the Times. ‘They were loath to pick him up and because of that hesitancy, we wind up trading five Taliban guys for him.’
Evidence suggests that at least six soldiers were killed in the search for Bergdahl after he walked away from his unit on June 30, 2009, and another eight perished in a bloody eastern Afghanistan battle later that year because their air support and relief infantry units were occupied in the search.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, however, said Wednesday in Brussels that he does ‘not know of specific circumstances or details of U.S. solders dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sergeant Bergdahl.’
Less than 48 hours after Bergdahl, then an Army private, disappeared, military commanders in Afghanistan were offered terms to reclaim him. It’s unclear why that opportunity fell through.
According to field reports published online by WIkileaks, soldiers conducting a Key Leader Engagement (KLE) discussion with tribal elders and Afghanistan National Police in Paktika province weretold of a Taliban offer for his safe return.
Battallion Command was radioed that officers had ‘just finished with the KLE with 2 x elders from Mest and the Mest ANP commander. The elders were asked by the Taliban to [arrange] a trade between the U.S. and Taliban.’
‘The Taliban terms are 15 of their Taliban brothers in U.S. jail and some money in exchange for Pvt Bergdahl,’ a transcript of the radio traffic read. ‘The elders assured me that Pvt Bergdahl is alive and that he is not being harmed.’
Police offered help the tribal elders with money for a car, fuel and light weapons in order to make the exchange, but it never happened.
It’s also unclear whether the ‘U.S. jail’ the Taliban referred to was Guantanamo Bay or a local holding facility in Afghanistan.
Obama’s promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp has been controversial since he first made it in 2008, and his January 22, 2009 executive order calling for it to be shuttered in a year – his first such order as president – was met with eye-rolls in Washington.
But political momentum has slowly gathered on the president’s side, even as military and foreign policy concerns continue to make the task seem impossible.
First the Justice and Defense departments were ordered in late 2009 to acquire a defunct prison in Illinois as a replacement, but six months later Congress blocked funding for any project that would move Guantanamo Bay’s detainees to U.S. soil.
Then in 2011 Obama ordered the creation of a formal review process for detainees and green-lighted the military tribunals that prisoners could turn to for due process before he canceled them upon taking office in 2009.
In early 2013 the State Department announced that it had closed down its office in charge of handling Guantanamo’s closure. But in January a group of 31 retired U.S. military officers grabbed the national spotlight with a letter urging Obama to shut down the camp and move its population somewhere else.
‘As long as it remains open, Guantanamo will undermine America’s security and status as a nation where human rights and the rule of law matter,’ they claimed.
Obama’s latest political stroke came around the same time, when he signed the latest National Defense Authorization Act into law. It loosened the requirements he must satisfy before he can transfer detainees from Guantanamo to foreign nations.
The fly in the ointment is that he is required to tell Congress 30 days in advance of relocating any of Guantanamo’s prisoners – something his administration failed to do before cutting a deal that sent five Taliban ringleaders to Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl’s safe return.
California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the existence of the secret Taliban videos, that there still ‘certainly was time to pick up the phone and call and say “I know you all had concerns about this, we consulted in the past, we want you to know we have reviewed these negotiations”,’
Ultimately, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken called Feinstein to apologize for the lack of notice, claiming that it was an ‘oversight.’
Other members of Congress were quick to suggest on Wednesday that the Berghdal prisoner swap was thin cover for the president’s desire to empty Guantanamo’s cells.
South Caroline Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told The Washington Examiner that Obama was floating a ‘trial balloon,’ to test the political waters for a larger prison release.
And Oklahoma GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe said Tuesday on TheBlaze TV that ‘this president has an obsession – has two obsessions, I guess I should say – that he wants to turn into his legacy when he leaves office.’
‘One of those happens to be to close Gitmo.’
With five Taliban leaders now in Qatar and a year to work with – the length of time that country’s emir has said he will keep them under a loose form of house arrest – an only somewhat forgiving clock has started ticking.
‘Obama now has the tool he’s always wanted,’ a former U.S. intelligence official who is now a private government contractor told MailOnline on Wednesday.
‘The question is how many of these Taliban guys he can sneak past the goalie while Congress is busy hassling him about the IRS, the VA and Obamacare.’
Already, Graham has threatened to invoke Congress’s ultimate nuclear option – impeachment – if Obama relocates any more Guantanamo detainees without putting Capitol Hill in the loop.
He warned The Hill that ‘it’s going to be impossible for them to flow prisoners out of Gitmo now without a huge backlash.’
‘There will be people on our side calling for his impeachment if he did that.’
None the four senior congressional leaders who serve as chairmen or ranking minority members on the two intelligence committees were notified. And of the four most senior House and Senate members, only Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was apparently told about the prisoner exchange ahead of time.
Reid complained Wednesday that Republicans in Congress have blocked Democrats’ attempts to pass a bill closing the Guantanamo Bay prison for good.
Graham countered that he has added language to the pending defense authorization bill – the successor to the 2013 legislation that included the 30-day notification rule – forbidding Congress from closing Guantanamo without a public up-or-down vote.
Shutting down the facility would still require a decision about where to relocated the remaining detainees, whose reported number is now 149.
Graham also said his legislative language would deny the Defense Department the option of sending any of them to Yemen, a small Arab nation that has served as a crossroads for al-Qaeda and other Islamist terror groups to train together and cross-pollinate their missions and tactics.
Liberal advocacy groups have leaped for joy at the prospect of closing the facility.
Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress told Politico that the Bergdahl case marks ‘the first time’ the Obama White House has ‘followed through on their repeated separation-of-powers objections to the transfer restrictions. Hopefully, [there’s] more to come.’
‘The Obama administration’s backbone on Gitmo and assertion of its executive branch prerogatives finally seem to have solidified,’ American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony Romero added.
Obama administration officials continued to stonewall Congress about the Taliban prisoner exchange deal during a classified closed-door briefing Wednesday evening in which senior administration officials attempted to justify the White House’s decision to skirt congressional approval of the controversial deal, according to multiple Senate insiders familiar with the briefing.
Obama administration officials attempted to show that there was an imminent threat to the life of released soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and that this justified President Obama’s decision to release five top Taliban leaders from prison.
Senators were presented with a “proof of life” video from December that showed Bergdahl in Taliban captivity. This video is said to be the sole basis for the administration’s decision to accept the exchange deal, according to Senate insiders.
Obama administration officials, including representatives from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Department of Defense, did not present any new evidence to justify the deal and stonewalled lawmakers when they asked for concrete information about the exchange, according to those familiar with the brief.
The administration also sought to deflect accusations that Obama broke U.S. law by signing off on the deal without first consulting with Congress.
“There was nothing new that they brought to the table,” said one Senate insider who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon. “It was the typical, ‘We don’t know, we have to get answers, we have to investigate, we don’t know all the facts.’”
“One person described it by saying it’s like Benghazi all over again: A constant stonewall and providing no new information,” added the source.
Questions continue to circulate around the so-called proof of life video that was provided by the Taliban to the State Department in December.
Taliban leaders apparently led the administration to believe that Bergdahl’s condition was rapidly deteriorating, a move that some now describe as a “pressure tactic” to force the White House into making a deal.
While Bergdahl appeared “weaker” and in poor health in the video, there was no solid evidence to show that his life was in imminent danger, according to a second Senate insider familiar with the briefing.
However, the Obama administration is believed to have used this December video as the sole basis for their decision to accept the prisoner exchange deal, taking the Taliban at their word that Bergdahl’s life was in immediate danger due to deteriorating health conditions.
“That video alone was where they made the basis that there was an imminent threat to life,” explained the first Senate insider familiar with the brief.
Administration officials would not give an assessment of Bergdahl’s current status and could not explain why a December video was relied upon to justify the deal.
There was “no new info to indicate a threat to his life to justify why this happened now,” the source said.
The Obama administration is under the impression that “it could cause some sympathy for Bergdahl if the video would be leaked,” according to the second Senate source, who described the briefing as “worthless.”
Bergdahl himself has come under scrutiny for purportedly deserting his war post, leading to a massive search and rescue operation that resulted in the deaths of several other U.S. soldiers.
“Every person who spoke seemed very scripted from the White House,” the source said. Senators “didn’t learn anything new aside from what the administration has leaked to the press.”
Some in attendance at the briefing expressed concern that the administration is attempting to closely control the narrative by leaking only select classified details to the press and keeping Congress in the dark.
The White House is “tying congressmen’s hands behind their back by saying you can’t talk about it or provide oversight over it,” said the second Senate source.
There was a broad consensus among senators that the administration wrongly sought to skirt congressional oversight of the deal.
Concerns remain on Capitol Hill that the prisoner swap was the first step to release more prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, which the White House hopes to shut down.
Obama has indicated that he seeks to end U.S. war authorization in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a decision that could pave the way for roughly 100 or so Guantanamo detainees to be released.
The father of America’s first fatality in Afghanistan denounced the Obama administration for releasing Taliban prisoners that he holds responsible for his son’s death, saying the move was a slap in the face to every American who died in the war against terror.
Johnny “Mike” Spann, part of a CIA paramilitary unit, was killed Nov. 25, 2001 during an uprising by Taliban prisoners near Mazar-e-Sharif a month after President George W. Bush ordered U.S. forces into Afghanistan to punish al-Qaida and its allies for the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
Two of the five Taliban prisoners released last weekend from Guantanamo prison in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl were present during the uprising at Qala-i-Jangi prison, according to U.S. documents obtained by The Washington Post. They were Mullah Mohammad Fazl and Mullah Norullah Noori.
Spann’s father, Johnny Spann, told Stars and Stripes that his first reaction to the exchange was “disappointment and disbelief.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Spann recalled. “It’s a slap in the face to everybody that’s died in this war on terror… Every American that’s lost their life to the hands of the Taliban and al-Qaida – this is a slap in their face to know that we had five high-powered leaders that we just turned loose.”
Details of the two mullahs’ roles in the uprising have never been publicly spelled out by the U.S.
Nevertheless, Spann, 65, of Winfield, Alabama, is convinced the two were responsible even if they weren’t the ones that pulled the trigger.
“I’m convinced from all the reports and all the information that I have that that was a planned event from the night before, and [the Taliban] knew exactly what they were going to do and when they were going to do it. And I think that those two men were part of it — part of the planning,” he said.
“Everybody that was inside there had a hand in it. Nobody tried to protect Mike’s life — not a single soul in there tried to. Everybody in there was hell-bent on killing Americans… Mike lost his life inside Qala-i-Jangi, and yes, I hold everybody responsible that was inside that prison for Mike’s death… Everybody inside Qala-i-Jangi has blood on their hands and was a part of it,” he said.
Questions about the 2001 uprising have been raised again since the release of Bergdahl, 28, of Hailey, Idaho.
Bergdahl went missing in June 2009 in Paktika province in southeastern Afghanistan while serving with a unit of the 25th Infantry Division from Fort Richardson, Alaska.
Some former members of Bergdahl’s unit have accused him of deserting and that American lives were lost looking for him.
Bergdahl is currently at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he was sent soon after his release.
Spann is withholding judgment on Bergdahl for now. But even if Bergdahl wasn’t a deserter, Spann thinks the trade wasn’t worth it.
“I see no equality in what was traded for Bergdahl. I don’t see no equality as far as value there,” Spann said. “I mean [the detainees] were very valuable to us as far as they were responsible for a lot of American lives… They weren’t the average Joe out there carrying a rifle on the battlefield. They were leaders. They were the people that were planning things.”
Obama has defended his decision, saying America had a “sacred duty” to ensure that no U.S. servicemember was left behind on the battlefield.
Spann thinks the U.S. government should try to get American prisoners of war freed, but he says the Taliban can’t be dealt with like a normal enemy at the end of a conflict.
“Certainly the U.S. needs to always work for the release of those [American] prisoners,” Spann said. “If we knew that we were making a deal with a responsible group of people and we knew that they were going to lay down their arms and they were not going to continue to try to kill Americans, then you might consider that to some extent. But now, we don’t have any agreement like that in this war with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. This war on terror is nowhere near over.”
Spann also thinks the swap sends the wrong signal and will put more Americans in danger.
“[Our enemies] know that they can get an American and they can hold them hostage, and at some point we’ll trade,” he said.
Still, Spann can sympathize with Bergdahl’s parents, who have made a high-profile effort to push for their son’s release. They appeared next to Obama in the Rose Garden on Saturday after Obama announced the swap.
“If it was my son, would I want him home? Why yeah. But… that’s a reason that parents and kin folks can’t be on the jury and they can’t be the judge because they would be biased… You can ask a parent, ‘Well, if that was your son, would you want him home?’ Well, of course I’d want him home. But if your son committed murder, would you still want him home? Yeah, the majority of the people [you asked] would want him to not go to jail… But that’s not the way this system works. They’re not the judge, and your kin folks don’t get to decide that,” Spann said.
Spann thinks Obama doesn’t understand the raw emotions people in his position feel.
“I’d almost bet you that if one of President Obama’s children had been killed in this war or on 9/11, he would have a different reflection and a different attitude as far as any leniency that he would give to al-Qaida and Taliban leaders who have been active in the death of Americans,” he said.
Spann thinks about Mike and the 9/11 attacks all the time.
“I’ve got a big picture in the front of my office of the towers smoking and falling with the airplane sticking out of it. Every day I see that. I’ve got several pictures of my son throughout my office. So it’s constantly on my mind that I remember him and I remember those people that died on 9/11, because when I walk into the front door, the first thing I see is that photo of the towers,” he said. “[My] disbelief is we would give five people back that were instrumental… in the deaths of thousands of American people all the way back to 9/11.”
Spann thinks the released detainees will try to kill more Americans, and he mocks the Obama administration’s assurances that measures are in place to prevent them from doing that.
“I don’t think any responsible American will look at this situation and think that they’re going to go to Qatar [where they’ll spend the next year under the supervision of the Qatari government] and Qatar is going to keep them under some kind of security measures where they’re not going to be able to have any kind of influence on the Talban and al-Qaida movements throughout the world. I just don’t believe that… I just don’t think they were rehabilitated. I think that’s sort of a joke for us to think that or even suppose that they have been. And I think they’ll be out there costing more American lives or more American deaths,” he said.
On Monday, Shannon Allen, wife of disabled Afghanistan veteran Sgt. 1st Class Mark Allen, took to social media to voice her personal concerns on the idea that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is a hero. Sgt 1st Class Mark Allen was severely wounded while supposedly searching for Bergdahl during a firefight in Kabul, when sniper fire pierced the armor on his helmet and passed through the frontal lobe of his brain.
Shannon posted this image on Facebook with the caption:
“Meet my husband, injuries directly brought to you by the actions of this traitor. He can’t give an account of what went down, because he can no longer speak. Now, which guy is a ‘hero’ again?!? Sick.”
The lengths to which our service members are willing to go to leave no man behind are boundless.
As more information continues to develop surrounding #Bergdahlgate, one thing is for certain: there are many questions left to be answered. When all is said and done, we can only hope the right judgement call is made.
So Secretary Eric Shinseki is now ex-secretary Shinseki, and cleaning up the Department of Veterans Affairs’ health care mess will now be someone else’s job. But there’s a good chance that no matter who is in charge, the cleanup will be, basically, impossible. That’s because the VA is government health care.
Not all that long ago, some people were boosting the VA’s government-run nature as a plus. Writing in the Washington Post during the debate over Obamacare, Ezra Klein suggested that we should expand VA coverage to non-veterans, because the government just does health care better than the private sector: “Medicare is single-payer, but VA is actually socialized medicine, where the government owns the hospitals and employs the doctors… If you ordered America’s different health systems (from) worst-functioning to best, it would look like this: individual insurance market, employer-based insurance market, Medicare, Veterans Health Administration.”
A couple of years later, in 2011, Klein hailed the VA health system as an example of “when socialism works in America“: “The thing about the Veteran’s (Affairs’) health-care system? It’s socialized. Not single-payer. Not heavily centralized. Socialized. As in, it employs the doctors and nurses. Owns the hospitals… If I could choose my health-care reform, I don’t think I’d go as far towards government control as the VA does. But the program is one of the most remarkable success stories in American public policy, and it needs to be grappled with.”
Now that the VA has erupted in scandals involving phony wait lists, and people dying because of treatment delays, an audit reveals a “systemic lack of integrity” in the system. According to the auditors, “Information indicates that in some cases, pressures were placed on schedulers to utilize inappropriate practices in order to make waiting times appear more favorable.”
In other words, they cooked the books. And what’s more, they did it to ensure bigger “performance bonuses.” The performance may have been fake, but the bonuses were real. (One whistle-blower compared the operation to a “crime syndicate.”)
And that captures an important point. People sometimes think that government or “nonprofit” operations will be run more honestly than for-profit businesses because the businesses operate on the basis of “greed.” But, in fact, greed is a human characteristic that is present in any organization made up of humans. It’s all about incentives.
And, ironically, a for-profit medical system might actually offer employees less room for greed than a government system. That’s because VA patients were stuck with the VA. If wait times were long, they just had to wait, or do without care. In a free-market system, a provider whose wait times were too long would lose business, and even if the employees faked up the wait-time numbers, that loss of business would show up on the bottom line. That would lead top managers to act, or lose their jobs.
In the VA system, however, the losses didn’t show up on the bottom line because, well, there isn’t one. Instead, the losses were diffused among the many patients who went without care — visible to them, but not to the people who ran the agency, who relied on the cooked-books numbers from their bonus-seeking underlings.
And, contrary to what Klein suggests, that’s the problem with socialism. The absence of a bottom line doesn’t reduce greed and self-dealing – it removes a constraint on greed and self-dealing. And when that happens, ordinary people pay the price. Keep that in mind, when people suggest that free-market systems are somehow morally inferior to socialism.
Sparks flew during a rare late-night hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, as visibly upset Republicans raked VA officials over the coals while the ink was still wet on a scathing inspector general report condemning the agency’s deadly failures.
The report found that in Phoenix, Arizona alone, 1,700 U.S. military veterans were denied medical care and others waited an average of 115 days to be seen by a doctor – and that officials covered up the lapses by manipulating wait-lists and other official records.
Tennessee Republican Rep. Phil Roe, a physician and veteran of the Army Medical Corps, summed up the mood on Capitol Hill when he addressed Dr. Thomas Lynch, the VA’s assistant deputy undersecretary for health.
Noting that the three officials at the witness table are well-paid but presided over a system that ignored the needs of cash-strapped veterans who are locked into the VA health system, he leveled a sledgehammer at Lynch
‘What I don’t understand is, as a veteran – as a doctor, as a practitioner – I don’t understand how you can stand at a mirror and look at yourself in the mirror, and shave in the morning, and not throw up,’ he said, ‘knowing that you’ve got people out there… how in the world?’
‘I see some of these people out there. They live in my communities, and they can’t get in, and they’re desperate to get in,’ howled an incredulous Roe. ‘And someone who’s making $180,000 a year gets a bonus for not taking care of the veterans? I don’t get that.’
Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican who chairs the panel, wasted no time in going after VA Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs Joan Mooney.
‘Until VA understands that we’re deadly serious, you can expect us to be over your shoulder every single day,’ he told her.
And then ‘deadly serious’ became, literally, deadly.
‘Why have you not told this committee yet who was disciplined in Augusta, Georgia and Columbia, South Carolina, where nine veterans died because they were on a waiting list for colonoscopies?’ Miller asked.
Mooney deflected the question, saying that her office had ‘responded to more than 100,000 requests for information,’ but Miller was unimpressed.
‘Ma’am! Ma’am! Ma’am! Ma’am!’ he exclaimed. ‘Veterans died! Get us the answers, please!’
‘I understand that, Mr. Chairman,’ Mooney replied, and I will look -‘
‘That’s what you said three months ago!’ Miller boomed. ‘This has been going on since January. Since January.’
‘In case you don’t know it, we put on our website every week what we ask for,’ he said, ‘and nothing changes from week to week.’
Miller aired a laundry list of complaints about the VA’s response to congressional demands, including the agency’s refusal to brief members of Congress.
‘We did ask the [VA] Office of General Counsel to come brief members last week, and the general counsel declined,’ the Floridian said. ‘He said he declined because he didn’t want to brief the members – he wanted to brief the staff.’
‘It takes repeated requests and threats of compulsion to get VA to bring their people here,’ a disgusted Miller concluded.
Mooney got he worst of it.
As she referred to prepared notes in order to answer questions, an outraged Miller lost patience. ‘Can you say anything without reading your prepared notes?’ he demanded?
The VA has reportedly provided the committee with 5,500 pages of documents, but lawmakers are convinced there’s much more to be found.
‘Let me be clear: I am not happy,’ said Maine Rep. Michael Michaud, the committee’s ranking Democrat.
‘We’ll get to the bottom of this, uncover the truth, and ensure a solution is implemented to make sure something like this never happens again.’
Roe was more pointed.
‘If you don’t give us the information,’ he said, ‘I’m thinking, “There’s something they’re trying to hide.” Why wouldn’t you just turn over the documents, and – they are what they are. Just tell the truth.’
‘Is there a reason? …In my mind, I’m thinking right now that you’re hiding something from me. And I have no reason to believe you’re not,’ he said.
The three VA witnesses were not permitted to offer an opening statement. A Veterans Affairs Committee staff member told MailOnline that there was some internal debate about that decision.
‘I guess if they had something to tell us, they should have told us years ago. That was the thinking.’
Questions arose about how and why documents related to the Phoenix cover-up were destroyed – especially off-the-books waiting lists that showed a realistic picture of how long veterans waited for their doctor visits.
On Wednesday at least 58 members of Congress, including 20 Democrats, demanded VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation, with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain leading the charge and calling on President Barack Obama to fire him if he didn’t step down.
Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman added to the bloodletting in the evening, demanding the termination of all three witnesses: Lynch, Mooney, and Michael Huff, a VA congressional relations officer.
‘You are not being forthright in your testimony,’ Coffman boomed. ‘You are here to serve yourselves and not the men and women who have made extraordinary sacrifices to serve this country.’
ENTIRE HOUSE VETERANS’ AFFAIRS COMMITTEE HEARING (05/28/14)
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs paid at least $11.4 million to 174 nurses, mental-health specialists, therapists, and other health-care professionals who, instead of caring for veterans, worked full-time doing union business.
The list of these taxpayer-funded union representatives at VA offices around the nation and their salaries was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Georgia representative Phil Gingrey’s staff and provided to National Review Online.
“So many health-care providers were on that list – nurses or physical therapists or whatever they may be – when so many veterans are falling through the cracks,” a Gingrey aide tells me. “It’s kind of shocking that these paid employees wouldn’t be fully dedicated to patient care.”
In total, the VA spent at least $13.77 million on 251 salaried employees performing full-time union work. Others, who were not included on the list provided by the VA, work part-time for unions at the taxpayer expense. In fiscal year 2011, the latest on record, the VA used 998,483 hours of this “official time,” costing taxpayers more than $42 million.
The newly released records show that in Baltimore, which has the nation’s longest wait times for veterans’ claims, taxpayers covered $372,674 in salary costs in 2012 for a clinical dietetic technician, a patient-services assistant, a health technician, a medical-support assistant, and two nurses to spend all their time at work on union issues and none of it working with veterans.
In Columbia, S.C., the VA pays one health technician a $40,706 salary to work for the American Federation of Government Employees.
At that same location, CNN reported in January, a 44-year-old veteran named Barry Coates was forced to wait a year for a colonoscopy, despite intense pain, constipation, and rectal bleeding. When Coates finally got his appointment, doctors found a tumor the size of a baseball – Stage 4 colorectal cancer that had metastasized elsewhere.
Testifying on the Hill in April, Coates described his constant pain and suffering. “I am totally and permanently impotent as well as incontinent,” he said. “It is likely too late for me. The gross negligence of my ongoing problems and crippling back log epidemic of the VA medical system has not only handed me a death sentence but ruined the quality of my life I have for the meantime.”
At the Phoenix VA system, where CNN has reported that at least 40 veterans died waiting for appointments, taxpayers cover the costs of a practical nurse (salary: $54,014) and a medical-administration specialist (salary: $59,849), neither of whom work with veterans. There, as many as 1,600 sick veterans faced months-long waits to see a physician, according to CNN.
In Boston, the VA paid a cumulative annual salary of $587,112 in 2012 to six nurses who, instead of treating patients, work for unions.
Employees across the federal government are paid full-time or part-time to perform work for their various unions, but perhaps nowhere is the practice more offensive than the overburdened VA.
In October 2013, as the nation was focused on the deeply flawed rollout of the Healthcare.gov Obamacare marketplace, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) awarded $3 million in prizes to three participants in the agency’s Medical Appointment Scheduling Contest. The contest was announced in 2012 to help the VA make the move to a more modern and flexible scheduling system:
VA’s current Medical Scheduling Package (MSP) is a component of VistA; it’s legacy electronic health record (EHR) system. The MSP not only makes appointments for clinicians, but also captures data that allows VA to measure, manage, and improve efficiency and access to care. However, VA’s current MSP is more than 25 years old. It neither meets current requirements, nor does it provide the flexibility needed to adapt for future needs[.]
A press release from the contest winner MedRed noted that the:
VA started to develop a Medical Scheduling Package replacement in 2000. This effort was not successful. When VA ended the project in 2009, none of the planned capabilities were delivered. It had cost more than $127 million.
The prize-winning app, Health e-Time, was developed in about two and a half months according to MedRed’s CEO William Smith, and was actually a collaboration between MedRed, telecom company BT and the VISTA Expertise Network, who will all split a $1.8 million first prize.
According to GovernmentHealthIT, the Health e-Time application “offers veterans the ability to schedule visits online across VA locations and gives VA providers the ability to share appointments with veterans’ personal digital calendars and with other non-VA providers.”
Just this past week, CalConnect, a calendering and scheduling consortium, held a “Workshop on VA Scheduling System” at its conference in Dulles, Virginia, and William Smith of MedRed addressed attendees about the contest and his company’s winning entry Health e-Time. Smith has previously described Health e-Time as “an open-source solution that could seamlessly integrate with VistA, the VA’s Electronic Health Record system.”
On Tuesday, the Washington Post revealed a memorandum dated April 26, 2010, sent from the Deputy Undersecretary for Health for Operations and Management (10N) to Network Director (10N1-23). That memo spelled out 17 methods being used by VA hospitals to cover up long wait times. Those tactics included:
* Telling veterans to call back after 30 days so that they would not appear in the records as having waited longer than 30 days;
* Use of a manual logging system;
* Creation and cancellation of new patient visits, marking those cancellations as “cancelled by patient” rather than “cancelled by clinic.”
The list goes on and on.
The White House claimed that it was utterly unaware of the memo, although Dr. Robert Petzel, the top health official at the Veterans Administration, admitted, “It’s absolutely inexcusable.”
So, what did the Obama administration know and when did it know it?
It knew, according to a 2008 briefing memo from the Department of Veterans Affairs, that the waiting times reported from the VA were not reliable: “This is not only a data integrity issue in which [Veterans Health Administration] reports unreliable performance data; it affects quality of care by delaying – and potentially denying – deserving veterans timely care.” Such problems, the document stated, “are systemic throughout the VHA.”
In 2007, then-Senator Obama, running for president, acknowledged massive problems within the VA. “No veteran should have to fill out a 23-page claim to get care, or wait months – even years – to get an appointment at the VA,” he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He continued:
When we fail to keep faith with our veterans, the bond between our nation and our nation’s heroes becomes frayed. When a veteran is denied care, we are all dishonored. It’s not enough to lay a wreath on Memorial Day, or to pay tribute to our veterans in speeches. A proud and grateful nation owes more than ceremonial gestures and kind words.
Caring for those who serve – and for their families – is a fundamental responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief.
He concluded, “The VA will also be at the cutting edge of my plan for universal health care.”
But Obama now claims that he was only informed of bureaucratic snafus from the newspapers. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stated that the Phoenix falsifications of wait lists were news to Obama:
We learned about them through the reports. I will double check if that is not the case. But that is when we learned about them and that is when I understand Secretary Shinseki learned about them, and he immediately took the action that he has taken.
Apparently he was reading the wrong newspapers. Problems with veteran wait times have been heavily covered by the media for years. In 2010, the Los Angeles Times wrote:
Some veterans wait up to six months to get their initial VA medical appointment. The typical veteran of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars waits 110 days for a disability claim to be processed, with a few waiting up to a year. For all veterans, the average wait is 161 days. The VA says a ruling on an appeal of a disability rating takes more than 600 days on average. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA, an advocacy group, says the average delay is 776 days. Up to 17% of veterans’ disability ratings are incorrect, the VA says. Thousands of dollars in disability payments hinge on the ratings, which are determined by the VA. The agency says it hopes to eventually cut the error rate to 2%.
In February 2013, lawmakers accused the VA of covering up five veteran deaths from Legionnaires’ disease, with Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) stating, “This has got the federal government’s footprints all over it. I am stunned at the coordination that took place and that is occurring at the highest levels of government to try and counter the blame.” The VA originally claimed that a minor Legionnaires’ outbreak had killed no one.
In March 2013, a whistleblower told the Daily Beast that the VA “routinely disseminated false information about the health of America’s veterans, withheld research showing a link between nerve gas and Gulf War syndrome, rushed studies out the door without taking recommended fixes by an independent board, and failed to offer crucial care to veterans who came forward as suicidal.” The whistleblower said that his bosses responded by attempting to intimidate and silence him, and that he was even admonished. He said that almost 2,000 suicidal veterans did not receive proper follow-up.
In November 2013, CNN reported:
Military veterans are dying needlessly because of long waits and delayed care at U.S. veterans hospitals… Military veterans are dying needlessly because of long waits and delayed care at U.S. veterans hospitals, a CNN investigation has found. What’s worse, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is aware of the problems and has done almost nothing to effectively prevent veterans dying from delays in care.”
CNN reported at least six patient deaths at just one facility. Money was even given to the VA to fix the problem. It wasn’t fixed. Debra Draper at the Government Accountability Office explained, “Long wait times and a weak scheduling policy and process have been persistent problems for the VA, and both the GAO and the VA’s (inspector general) have been reporting on these issues for more than a decade.”
So, what did President Obama know, and when did he know it? He knew plenty. And he had plenty of time to do something about it. He just didn’t. And crocodile tears now come too little too late.
This actually happened on the Senate floor this afternoon. Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) asked for consent to take up and pass the Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act, a bill that would make it easier/possible for the scandal-plagued department to fire employees based on poor performance. The House overwhelmingly passed the legislation on Wednesday, with a bipartisan vote of 390 to 33. (Only Democrats objected.)
Surely the Senate would follow suit, right? Not exactly. Senator Bernie Sanders, a union-backed socialist from Vermont, objected on behalf of Senate Democrats to Rubio’s request. Instead of taking any action now, Sanders said he is going to hold a hearing – several weeks from now.
Sanders, who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, has been one of the most outspoken defenders of the VA against allegations of misconduct. When asked about reports of multiple deaths related to long wait times at the VA healthcare system, Sanders told CNN: “People die every day.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) on Thursday offered a lukewarm assessment of the House-passed legislation, describing it as “not unreasonable.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) was not happy. “As we head into the Memorial Day weekend, I am disappointed, and – frankly – shocked that Senate Democratic leaders chose to block legislation that would hold VA managers accountable,” Boehner said in a statement. “As we head home to honor the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedom, it’s fair to ask why Senate Democrats won’t stand up for more accountability?”
The number of VA facilities under investigation after complaints about falsified records and treatment delays has more than doubled in recent days, the Office of Inspector General at the Veterans Affairs Department said late Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for the IG’s office said 26 facilities were being investigated nationwide. Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin told a Senate committee last week that at least 10 new allegations about manipulated waiting times and other problems had surfaced since reports of problems at the Phoenix VA hospital came to light last month.
The expanded investigations come as President Barack Obama’s choice to help carry out reforms at the Veterans Affairs Department was set to travel to Phoenix to meet with staff at the local VA office amid mounting pressure to overhaul the beleaguered agency.
Obama announced last week that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors would be assigned to the VA after allegations of delayed care that may have led to patient deaths and a cover-up by top administrators in Phoenix. Similar claims have been reported at VA facilities in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Georgia, Missouri, Texas, Florida, and elsewhere.
Nabors met Tuesday in Washington with representatives of several veterans’ organizations, including the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans, among others. He will meet Thursday with leadership at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Medical Center, including with interim director Steve Young, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Young took over in Phoenix after director Sharon Helman was placed on leave indefinitely while the VA’s Office of Inspector General investigates claims raised by several former VA employees that Phoenix administrators kept a secret list of patients waiting for appointments to hide delays in care.
Critics say Helman was motivated to conceal delays to collect a bonus of about $9,000 last year.
A former clinic director for the VA in Phoenix first came out publicly with the allegations of secret lists in April. Dr. Samuel Foote, who retired in December after nearly 25 years with the VA, says that up to 40 veterans may have died while awaiting treatment at the Phoenix hospital. Investigators say they have so far not linked any patient deaths in Phoenix to delayed care.
The allegations have sparked a firestorm on Capitol Hill and some calls for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation. The VA’s undersecretary for health care, Robert Petzel, has since stepped down.
However, Republicans denounced the move as a hollow gesture, since Petzel had already been scheduled to retire soon. And several lawmakers are proposing legislation to take on VA problems.
Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told The Associated Press on Tuesday he plans to introduce legislation this week to ensure that internal probes by the VA’s Office of Medical Inspector are released to Congress and the public “so the full scope of the VA’s dysfunction cannot be disguised.”
Moran noted that a VA nurse in Cheyenne, Wyoming, was put on leave this month for allegedly telling employees to falsify appointment records. The action came after an email about possible wait-list manipulation at the Cheyenne hospital was leaked to the media.
But Moran said the Cheyenne center was already the subject of a December 2013 report by Office of the Medical Inspector. That report apparently substantiated claims of improper scheduling practices, but it’s unclear if action taken at the Cheyenne center was based on the medical inspector’s findings, Moran said.
“Because OMI reports are not available to the public and have not been previously released to Congress, it is impossible to know whether the VA has taken action to implement the OMI’s recommendations for improvement in each case,” Moran said.
Meanwhile, two Republican senators introduced legislation to prohibit payment of bonuses to employees at the Veterans Health Administration through next year. Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Deb Fischer of Nebraska said the VA should focus its spending on fixing problems at the agency, “not rewarding employees entrenched in a failing bureaucracy.” Burr is the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and Fischer is a panel member.
The House passed a bill in February eliminating performance bonuses for the department’s senior executive staff through 2018.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, also called on Obama to back off plans to nominate Jeffrey Murawsky to replace Petzel at the VA. Murawsky, a career VA administrator, directly supervised Helman from 2010 to 2012.
The White House has said Obama remains confident in Shinseki’s leadership and is standing behind Murawsky’s nomination.
Shinseki and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday to discuss how the two departments can improve interactions between their health records systems. The two Cabinet members said in a joint statement that the meeting was productive and that both men share the same goal – to improve health outcomes of active duty military, veterans and beneficiaries.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) issued a blistering condemnation of the Obama administration for their handling of various scandals Wednesday in a statement to the press.
Blunt said there seems to be an endemic aversion at the White House to take responsibility for any of the scandals currently facing the administration. The Missouri senator listed the VA scandal, Serco Obamacare workers apparently being paid to do nothing, and the State Department’s obliviousness to the case of Meriam Ibrahim as instances where the Obama administration is simply failing to take responsibility.
Blunt was particularly apoplectic about the State Department being unaware of his letter concerning Ibrahim despite having it for four days. “This is a woman, one of her sentences in Sudan is to be flogged for marrying a non-Muslim. And the second after they flog her is to hang her for refusing to renounce her Christian faith,” he said.
“We don’t seem to be concerned about that. She and her toddler son are in a prison cell right now waiting for the baby to be born so the mother can be killed. And nobody in our government appears to want to say anything about it.”
President Obama’s plan to require private insurance carriers to reimburse the Department of Veterans Affairs for the treatment of troops injured in service has infuriated veterans groups who say the government is morally obligated to pay for service-related medical care.
Calling it a “desperate search for money at any cost,” Craig Roberts, media relations manager for the American Legion, told FOXNews.com on Tuesday that the president will “wish away so much political capital on this issue” if he continues to insist on private coverage for service-related injuries.
Cmdr. David K. Rehbein of the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, called the president’s plan to raise $540 million from private insurers unreasonable, unworkable and immoral.
“This reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle,’ given that the United States government sent members of the Armed Forces into harm’s way, and not private insurance companies,” Rehbein said late Monday after a meeting with the president and administration officials at the Veterans Affairs Department.
“I say again that The American Legion does not and will not support any plan that seeks to bill a veteran for treatment of a service-connected disability at the very agency that was created to treat the unique need of America’s veterans,” Rehbein said.
Roberts said that 11 veterans service organizations were told to come up with another plan if they didn’t like this one. The groups met on Monday with Obama, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Office of Management and Budget defense spending chief Steven Kosiak.
“What we’ve been tasked with now is to raise this money through alternative means and we’re supposed to have a conference call in two or three days… with Rahm Emanuel. So the implication was… you guys come up with a better idea or this is what’s going to happen,” Roberts said.
A summary of the proposed budget says the president wants to increase funding for VA by $25 billion over five years, and bring more than 500,000 eligible veterans of modest income into the VA health care system by 2013.
However, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that no plans have been enumerated yet about veterans health care.
“Let me not make the case for a decision that this administration hasn’t made yet regarding the final disposition or decision on third-party billing as it relates to service-related injuries,” he said.
“The veteran service organizations… can have confidence that the budget the president has proposed represents an historic increase in discretionary spending to take care of our wounded warriors, those that have been sent off to war, have protected our freedom, and have come back wounded,” Gibbs continued.
But Roberts said the president’s plan would increase premiums, make insurance unaffordable for veterans and impose a massive hardship on military families. It could also prevent small businesses from hiring veterans who have large health care needs, he said.
“The president’s avowed purpose in doing this is to, quote, ‘make the insurance companies pay their fair share,'” Roberts said. “It’s not the Blue Cross that puts soldiers in harm’s way, it’s the federal government.”
Roberts said that the American Legion would like the existing system to remain in place. Service-related injuries currently are treated and paid for by the government. The American Legion has proposed that Medicare reimburse the VA for the treatment of veterans.
He added that the argument about the government’s moral obligation to treat wounded soldiers, sailors and Marines fell on deaf ears during the meeting.
“The president deflected any discussion when it got into any moral issue here,” he said. “Any attempt to direct the conversation (to the moral discussion) was immediately deflected.”
Private insurance is separate for troops who need health care unrelated to their service. But Roberts noted that if a wounded warrior comes back and needs ongoing treatment, he or she could run up “to the max of the coverage in very short order,” leaving his family with nothing
Roberts added that how the plan would raise $540 million “is a great mystery and it seems to be an arbitrary number… The commander said it seemed like this phantom number.”
Monday’s meeting was preceded by a letter of protest earlier this month signed by Rehbein and the heads of 10 service organizations. It read that “there is simply no logical explanation” for the plan to bill veterans’ personal insurance “for care that the VA has a responsibility to provide.”
The letter called it “unconscionable” to shift the burden of the country’s “fiscal problems on the men and women who have already sacrificed a great deal for this country.” Rehbein testified to both the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees on those same points last week
Could the IRS do anything to make itself more unpopular? Apparently, things are far from over with the agency’s targeting of conservative political groups.
Emails obtained by Judicial Watch and released yesterday indicate that the Obama administration lied when it tried to pin the scandal on IRS employees in an Ohio branch office. In fact, the Washington, D.C., office of the IRS was coordinating with the employees to hold up tea party groups’ applications for nonprofit status and subject them to extra scrutiny.
At the heart of the controversy is Lois Lerner, who was head of the division that approved nonprofit applications at the time.
“This latest revelation by Judicial Watch showing that the IRS targeting of conservative organizations was being run by its Washington office demonstrates that the House acted correctly when it held Lois Lerner in contempt,” said Heritage legal expert Hans von Spakovsky.
The House voted last week to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about the IRS scandal. But it’s up to Attorney General Eric Holder to take any action – the first step of which would be forcing her to testify – and that hasn’t happened.
Von Spakovsky said:
Lerner claimed that this problem originated in the Cincinnati office of the IRS, so it is pretty clear she was misleading the public and congressional investigators. The contempt citation needs to be enforced and if the Justice Department refuses to do so, it will be another example of unethical behavior by a law enforcement agency that has repeatedly failed to adhere to its duty to enforce the law on an objective, nonpartisan basis.
In other words, the odds aren’t great that Lerner will face real consequences.
But perhaps the worst news is that the Obama administration has been working behind the scenes to change the rules for political activism – permanently.
In a new paper, von Spakovsky details how the administration has proposed rules for the IRS that “appear to be an attempt to implement the ‘inappropriate criteria’ used by the IRS to target tea party and other conservative organizations applying for tax-exempt status.”
Turning the IRS’s targeting of these organizations into actual rules, he explains, would:
* ignore Supreme Court precedents and the Internal Revenue Code;
* fail to provide clear guidance to citizens and organizations attempting to comply with the Code and accompanying regulations; and
* threaten to restrict or violate the First Amendment rights of Americans.
The IRS scandal has become a bipartisan concern, as evidenced by a number of Democrats voting to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress and voting to appoint a special counsel to investigate the scandal.
But the administration’s effort to rewrite the rules for political activity is an even more serious threat that must be stopped.