A high-ranking official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who said he was acting at the direction of top lawyers in President Obama’s White House, went to extraordinary and seemingly bizarre lengths to obstruct an Inspector General investigation into illicit lobbying activity at the agency.
The aggressive obstruction of an IG investigation is serious enough that a senior lawmaker says the police may need to be involved.
HUD Inspector General David Montoya revealed, on page 19 of his Feb. 18 report about illegal lobbying by the agency, the lengths to which the acting general deputy assistant secretary Elliot Mincberg went to impede the IG investigation, and how he said he was doing it for, and in “coordination” with, the “White House Counsel.”
Mincberg interrupted IG agents’ interview with another HUD employee – whose name is redacted in what the IG wrote – was Mincberg taking “steps to interfere with the investigation” by “inserting himself into” that other HUD worker’s “ongoing witness interview.”
The IG wrote that Mincberg “threatened to terminate the interview and not allow [other HUD employee’s name redacted] to provide documentation requested by the investigators.”
The next few paragraphs of the IG report lay out why Mincberg reacted harshly to investigators: He did not want to release to the IG who was on receiving end of two 1,000-plus recipient emails from Maurice Jones, a now ex-HUD official who was the Department’s second highest ranking official as HUD Deputy Secretary but is now newly elected Virginia Democrat Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s commerce secretary.
The emails prompted the IG investigation, and Mincberg did not want congressional Republicans to obtain it.
“Mincberg told investigators that there was a ‘slight sensitivity’ to HUD-OIG’s request due to the fact that the [Deputy Secretary’s, Jones’] office had recently received an oversight request from Capitol Hill,” the report reads. “Mincberg stated that he had no problem explaining what was done in regard to the e-mail; however, he wanted to protect HUD’s interests and, thus, had a problem surrounding the e-mail’s recipient list.”
On July 31, 2013, Jones sent an email to more than 1,000 recipients, including 46 fellow HUD employees, asking them to contact specific U.S. Senators to request that those Senators support procedural votes to advance the Senate Appropriations bill for HUD–S. 1243, the Transportation, HUD, and Related Agencies (THUD) appropriations bill. Shortly thereafter, on Aug. 5, 2013, Jones distributed an email to that list with the headline: “Thank You for Your Support.”
In response to the uncovering of those emails, House Financial Services Committee subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations chairman Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) asked the HUD Inspector General to investigate. Federal employees are restricted by federal law from lobbying for or against specific pieces of legislation, or on specific votes, as Jones did here.
The IG’s investigation, according to the Feb. 18 report it released, concluded that Jones and other HUD officials violated the law. The IG wrote that Jones and a group of other officials, “all appear to have violated anti-lobbying riders contained in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012, and in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013.” The IG referred the matter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) “for further review.”
But the IG faced serious obstacles in pursuing its investigation, largely due to Mincberg’s obstruction. At a Wednesday morning hearing in McHenry’s Financial Services subcommittee, the HUD IG Montoya testified about how aggressively Mincberg pushed back against his agents. During his Wednesday morning testimony, according to a prepared statement, Montoya revealed that IG investigators at one point actually had to threaten Mincberg with obstruction of justice criminal charges if he did not stop impeding their efforts–to which Mincberg threatened the agents in return.
“After being informed that his actions could potentially constitute obstruction of justice and/or interference in an official HUD-OIG investigation, Mincberg threatened the investigating agents that he (Mincberg) would ensure the agents were charged as a result of their inappropriate actions,” Montoya testified. “Mincberg never identified to the agents what those were.”
The list of recipients of Jones’ emails is still not public, as Mincberg only agreed to release the full list of names to the IG if agents promised they would not give it to Congress unless subpoenaed. Mincberg said the decision to withhold the information from Congress, and only provide it to the Inspector General upon the condition it was not shared with Congress unless subpoenaed, was one made in conjunction with and “coordinated” with White House lawyers.
“Mincberg stated that if Congress had the information, it could potentially give it the power to thwart or hinder HUD’s efforts in carrying out the Executive Branch’s policies and programs,” the IG report reads. “Mincberg stated that HUD-OIG has a ‘different relationship with Congress than other branches, as it should be,’ but he had a problem with the Legislative Branch attempting to intervene in the interests of the Executive Branch. He continued that ‘HUD had to protect the list’ and that his office had coordinated with ‘White House Counsel’ and would need assurance that HUD-OIG would not turn the recipients list over to the ‘Republicans’ on the congressional committee.”
Congressional Republicans are likely to continue hounding this scandal, as it involves a now senior McAuliffe administration official and former Obama administration official committing likely illegal activity alongside other Obama officials, and now seems to tie into the White House.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Breitbart News he thinks law enforcement officials may need to get involved to hold the administration accountable, especially if criminal activity occurred. “Like all administration employees, HUD employees need to follow the rules on interacting with Congress and the agency inspector general,” Grassley said in an emailed statement. “If an employee is trying to withhold information from or obstruct an investigation of the inspector general or member of Congress, that’s alarming. The appropriate entities, including law enforcement as necessary, need to get to the bottom of it.”
Neither the White House press office nor Mincberg responded to requests for comment.