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Chaffetz Threatens Subpoenas Over OPM Hack

Chaffetz, left, wants answers on the government employee data breach. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Subpoenas could be headed out to officials at the Office of Personnel Management after a massive data breach gave hackers sensitive information for millions of government workers, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz said during a taping of C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program .  

Chaffetz's committee is holding a hearing on the data breach Tuesday, and the Utah Republican doesn't seem to have much sympathy for government cyber security workers. "It’s clear we should have seen this coming a long time ago," Chaffetz said, adding that OPM officials have been "very resistant" to coming to testify before the congressional panel. “I’m prepared to issue a subpoena, if need be, to get them there," Chaffetz continued.  

The OPM hack appears to be much larger than first reported. Millions — potentially more than 10 million — government workers had sensitive data accessed by hackers for months, maybe even more than a year. While there are whispers that China was behind the cyber attack, Chaffetz would only go so far as to call them "very nefarious actors," though he did allude to the reports that it could have been China.  

Chaffetz said he didn't think U.S. officials took the cyber threat seriously enough, and he's looking to find out during Tuesday's hearing exactly what kinds of information was exposed.  

Chaffetz also spoke about another cyber issue: Hillary Clinton's private email server. While he expressed concern that Clinton's email arrangement could have subverted federal records laws — laws which are under the purview of his committee — Chaffetz seemed reluctant to commit to a full investigation in his panel.  

He noted that Benghazi Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., was already addressing Clinton's emails, and he said that, while there might be some aspect for the Oversight Committee to explore, "certainly Trey Gowdy’s committee will go first.”  

Chaffetz also spoke about the need to address the overall Freedom of Information Act system, which he criticized the Obama administration for not responsibly addressing. "They haven’t been handling it," he said, citing the more than 550,000 times the administration has claimed exceptions to requests.  

"So we need to change the law so that no matter who is in the Executive Branch, the public, which has the right to know, can access that information," Chaffetz said. Specifically, the Oversight chairman pointed to FOIA-rewrite legislation sponsored by his controversial predecessor at the committee, Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and the committee's ranking Democrat, Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland.  

While Chaffetz seemed to support the legislation, he did say he wants there to be consequences for the administration if they don’t respond to FOIA requests in a timely manner, and he wants to limit the number of exceptions.  

Still, despite his criticism of the administration on transparency, Chaffetz wasn't sympathetic at all to criticism that Congress isn't subject to FOIA requests, nor was he sympathetic to complaints that Congress was improperly making decisions for the District of Columbia. He said the role of Congress in legislating D.C. decisions was "just as our founders laid it out in the Constitution."  

In the "Newsmakers" interview, which aired Sunday, Chaffetz also addressed the IRS political targeting scandal, as well as his reaction to border security, having just returned from a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border himself. “If apprehensions are at their lowest levels, does that mean security is better or worse?" Chaffetz asked, adding that the reality of the border situation is that hundreds of thousands of people cross every year. "And that scares the living daylights out of me," he said.  

Chaffetz was particularly harsh on Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who has argued that the border is safer. "He’s doing this country a disservice by telling them apprehensions are down, so it’s safer," Chaffetz said.  

Chaffetz was also emphatic about the changes that he thinks need to be made at the Secret Service. He said there was a "deep-seated cultural problem" at the agency, and he said "the glean, the shine" at the Secret Service no longer existed.  

Chaffetz also defended a comment he made last year when he told officials he would have their backs if they shot someone jumping the White House fence.  

"Use unbelievable force, use excessive force, use — do whatever it takes," Chaffetz said in the C-SPAN interview, "but you never, ever, ever, get close to the president, and you never get in that White House. No questions. It cannot happen."  

 

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