Updated 5:48 p.m. | Darrell Issa, often referred to as the White House's antagonizer-in-chief, continues to ramp up his attacks on the HealthCare.gov rollout — in particular over the question of whether the site is secure. But if Rep. Elijah E. Cummings has anything to say about it, in a new mark of how much the Issa-Cummings relationship has soured, Issa will soon be known as a House rules violator.
Issa, the chairman of House Oversight and Government Reform, has been going back and forth with the administration and the panel's ranking Democrat, Cummings, for quite some time now regarding HealthCare.gov documents. And on Tuesday, things took a fresh turn.
The California Republican announced that he would meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss two things: the decision to move ahead with HealthCare.gov on Oct. 1, and the administration's concerns over publicly releasing documents detailing HealthCare.gov security vulnerabilities — even as Issa began releasing damning one-sentence assessments from the HealthCare.gov contractor documents, which the panel recently obtained through a protested subpoena.
“Of the 28 separate security vulnerabilities identified in the October 11 report, [HealthCare.gov contractor] MITRE reported that 19 remained unaddressed," Issa wrote in a letter Tuesday. "Among the unaddressed security risks that went live on October 1, MITRE indicated eleven ‘will significantly impact the confidentiality, integrity and/or availability of the system or data...’ if the technical or procedural vulnerability is exploited."
Issa — who said he was "withholding sensitive technical details" from the documents — quoted individual sentences from a troubling HealthCare.gov finding summary, which noted that "any malicious user" who has knowledge of a particular function "can perform unauthorized functions," and that a site "attacker is able to see and edit" certain user information.
Those select quotes, according to Cummings, already violate House rules that state subpoenaed documents obtained by a committee must be handled by procedures adopted by the committee. Since the committee has not adopted any rules regarding the handling of committee documents, the Maryland Democrat's argument goes, Issa has broken the rules.
“Chairman Issa’s letter cherry-picks from the documents, mischaracterizes the status of the website, and appears to violate House Rules that prohibit the unilateral release of documents under subpoena," Cummings said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. "The Chairman’s actions are a reckless and transparent attempt to frighten Americans away from the Heathcare.gov website and deny them health insurance to which they are entitled."
Cummings added that "this has become an unfortunate and well-known pattern with Chairman Issa, and in this case, one we warned against repeatedly over the last several days.”
A Democratic staffer told CQ Roll Call that the House Parliamentarian interprets House Rule XI as prohibiting the unilateral release of subpoenaed documents by one committee member and instead requires action by the committee.
But Republican staffers on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee say Democrats are wrong.
The Republican communications director for the panel, Frederick Hill, noted that the "so-called ‘ruling from the Parliamentarian’ is really from a supposed conversation that happened 16-years ago" and that "there is no precedent for the justification that the minority is trying to make up out of thin air."
"This interpretation is not how Congress operates," Hill said. "They’re trying to spin something that doesn’t fit."
Not so, said the Democratic staffer.
"Just because no chairman has violated this rule since former Chairman Dan Burton in the 1990s does not mean the rule ceases to exist," the aide said.
Update 5:48 p.m.
Republican committee staff point out that Cummings has, in the past, cited and quoted information gleaned from subpoenas.
During the Fast and Furious investigation, Cummings issued a minority report titled, "Fatally Flawed: Five Years of Gunwalking in Arizona."
The Democratic report, at times, used email images obtained through subpoena. The Republican staff note that there was no specific action by the committee authorizing the release of the subpoenaed documents.
Democratic staff, for their part, bring up the fact that Democrats invoked Rule XI clause 2(c)(2) on Friday when they wrote Issa a letter asking him for a special committee meeting to vote on procedures for safeguarding the documents.
"The Republicans did not do that," a Democratic staffer said of the gunwalking report.
Cummings sent a letter to Speaker John A. Boehner Tuesday night condemning Issa's actions and pointing to a number of rules clauses which effectively state that the subpoenaed documents are committee property, not Issa's.
The drama, indeed, continues.