Issa Charges Politics Are Behind Oversight Testimony

Posted November 16, 2009 at 8:33pm

The top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee plans to charge that Democrats have used the committee to “cover up— the Obama administration’s role in the merger between Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, according to a copy of his opening statement.The Oversight panel is scheduled to hear testimony Tuesday morning on the federal government’s involvement in the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch deal, after an Oct. 22 hearing was scrapped. According to an advance copy of ranking member Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) statement, which he will give Tuesday morning, Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) has intentionally blocked the testimony of several government officials in order to shift the attention of the committee’s investigation.“I have greatly appreciated your willingness to engage in necessary oversight of the Bush Administration’s decision to force Bank of America and other banks to accept TARP funds and to subsequently force Bank of America to acquire Merrill Lynch,— read Issa’s prepared remarks. “I regret that this investigation has now become an apparent cover-up of the Obama Administration’s actions in securing the promise of billions of dollars of taxpayer support in exchange for Bank of America’s waiver of its contractual right to attempt to renegotiate a lower purchase price for Merrill Lynch.—Tuesday’s hearing will be the fourth held by the committee since the beginning of this year on the merger. Four Bank of America board members are expected to testify.In a letter Issa sent to Towns on Monday afternoon, the California Republican wrote that, as of last week, he and his staff had been assured that Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairwoman Sheila Bair, former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox and current SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro would appear before the committee. Those three individuals had been scheduled to testify in October, before that hearing was postponed.Issa on Monday accused Towns’ staff of acting in “bad faith— by telling Republican members that the current and former government officials would testify at the upcoming hearing when, in fact, they had not been scheduled to testify. “I do not believe a serious investigation into the Merrill Lynch acquisition can be conducted without questioning these officers,— Issa wrote to Towns. “By failing to call government witnesses to this hearing, the Committee is abdicating its responsibility to oversee the government policies and actions that shaped the Merrill Lynch acquisition.—Jenny Thalheimer Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for Towns, said Issa’s allegations in the Monday letter were “baseless,— and she noted that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson appeared before the committee this summer to testify about the merger.She confirmed that the four officials in question had been slated to testify at the Oct. 22 hearing and that they were not listed as witnesses for Tuesday’s hearing, but she defended the majority’s decision.“This hearing is about the Bank of America Board members,— she wrote in an e-mail. “We call witnesses based on the evidence we receive, not who we want to attack politically.—“Depending on what happens tomorrow, if the Chairman determines the committee needs information from them in the future, I’m sure he will reach out to them,— Rosenberg said.But Issa is now planning to charge Towns with squashing the testimony of federal officials for the sake of protecting the current administration.“At one time, Mr. Chairman, you were willing to follow the trail of misconduct wherever it led,— Issa’s prepared statement reads. “Now that the trail has led to Obama Administration officials, this Committee’s time and resources have been redirected to pursue politically convenient scapegoats at Bank of America.—