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Republicans question transparency of Obama White House

By Kim Geiger, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — House Republicans are accusing President Barack Obama’s White House, and at least one key member of his re-election team, of breaking Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to make the executive branch more transparent.

The accusation is contained in a report, released Tuesday night by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which suggests that White House officials purposefully avoided disclosing key meetings and discussions by moving emails through personal accounts and taking off-campus meetings with lobbyists.

The emails were provided to the committee by a company and a trade association that had lobbied White House officials. Other trade associations, as well as a number of unions, also provided information about their White House meetings.

Republicans have seized on the new information, which was first reported by Politico, as evidence that Obama has reneged on the “no more secrecy” pledge he made in 2008.

“Here we go again,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “The Obama White House is clearly deceiving the American people.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday dismissed the report as a political attack on Obama’s campaign operation, since campaign manager Jim Messina is one of the officials named in the report.

But the heart of Republicans’ outrage comes from email exchanges between Jeff Smith, an official in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Jim Kirkland, an executive of the GPS company Trimble Navigation. Kirkland’s company sought to influence a regulatory decision that could impact GPS receivers.

“Coffee at Caribou Coffee — across the corner from the WH — would work at 11:30 a.m. on Friday,” Smith wrote to Kirkland in a May 9, 2011, email. “Plus getting you through the new WH security rules these days almost takes an act of Congress almost (sic) (and you know how well that’s going these days) plus you’d appear on an official WH visitor list which is maybe not want (sic) you want at this stage.”

White House officials are supposed to conduct all official communications through their work email accounts, but Smith instructed Kirkland to use his personal email instead.

“On this or any other related subject or policy matter, please continue to communicate with me only on my personal email,” Smith wrote.

The report also sheds light on the intense negotiations that took place in the days leading up to passage of Obama’s health care bill. It quotes one email exchange in which Messina, then the White House deputy chief of staff, bragged to the pharmaceutical industry that he was “literally rolling over theHouse (of Representatives),” in an effort to win extra billions in funding for a deal that had been struck with the drug companies.

“I hope you appreciate when the WH stepped in and said, ‘This is fair. Let’s get this done,’” Messina wrote, via his personal email address, to PhRMA lobbyist Bryant Hill.

Carney said it was not unusual for Messina to receive official emails at his personal address.

“In an effort to comply with all the regulations pertaining to emails, he would forward emails to his White House account or copy his White House account so that those emails would be part of presidential record,” Carney said.

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