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Health Care Probe May Ensnare Jim Messina

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Michael Burgess says he’s gotten “stony silence” from the White House since 2009 on his questions into behind-the-scenes health care law deal-making.

House Republicans are preparing to unveil results of an investigation into deals the White House made to help pass the health care overhaul, and the findings might saddle Jim Messina, President Barack Obama’s campaign manager, with unwanted distractions.

Rep. Michael Burgess told Roll Call that Messina’s name was “the one that came up most consistently” in emails and other documents about the deals. The Texas Republican, a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said Messina might have violated the Presidential Records Act by using a personal email account to discuss official White House business. Before joining the re-election campaign, Messina served as White House deputy chief of staff.

Republicans said privately that focusing on Messina’s role will be an unneeded irritant for the man tasked with re-electing Obama in November.  

Burgess said Messina might have taken steps that investigators are unaware of to comply with the records law, but he surmised that “were the rules broken there? Sure, it appears that they were.”

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement: “Unfortunately, House Republicans remain determined to spend their time and taxpayer resources refighting two-year old political battles, instead of creating jobs or growing the economy. But the White House is committed to compliance with the Presidential Records Act. All emails on the White House email system are archived; access to personal email and social networks from the White House network is blocked; and staff is instructed to use official accounts for official communications, and to take steps to ensure that emails subject to archiving requirements are archived.”

House Democrats, led by Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), extensively investigated the Bush administration’s use of Republican National Committee email accounts in possible violation of the records act when Waxman chaired the Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 2007 to 2009.

At the time, GOP officials complained bitterly about the investigation, with Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), now head of the Oversight panel, saying Waxman adopted a voyeuristic attitude toward White House adviser Karl Rove’s emails.

Asked whether he was unveiling the results of the investigation so close to the elections for political gain, Burgess said, “Dude, I’ve been asking these questions since the summer of 2009. They’ve had ample opportunity to answer our questions, to sit down for a private meeting with me, and say, ‘Look, Congressman, this is off the record, but let us tell you what we did.’ Nothing! I’ve gotten stony silence.”

Still, the findings of the health care investigation could provide the GOP a useful vehicle to revisit some of the uglier moments of the polarizing fight for the health care law’s passage.

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