April 24, 2014

Energy Department scraps millions in fees for nuclear loan guarantee

Developers of a Georgia nuclear project didn't have to pay millions of dollars in fees designed to prevent risk for taxpayers when it secured $6.5 billion in loan guarantees from the Energy Department in February, the agency confirmed Tuesday to the Washington Examiner.

The DOE calculated a zero dollar "credit subsidy fee," which protects taxpayers if developers default, for electric utility Georgia Power -- a subsidiary of Southern Co. -- and Oglethorpe Power Corp. to spur completion of two large, next-generation nuclear reactors at the Vogtle power plant in Waynesboro, Ga. Energy & Environment Publishing's Greenwire first reported the story.

Dawn Selak, a spokeswoman with the DOE's loan program office, said the agency calculated little risk of default based on a methodology devised by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“These calculations are made using a standard methodology, consistent with guidelines followed across the federal government. In this case, it should be noted that the Vogtle project sponsors are well-established, sizable companies that are already heavily invested and wholly committed to the project," she said in an email.

Southern Co. declined to comment for the story.

Autumn Hanna, senior program director with spending watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, called the move "absurd."

"If there is indeed zero risk, then they should not need a federal loan guarantee," she told the Examiner.

The fees were a political sticking point following the $535 million loan guarantee given to solar-panel maker Solyndra, which did not have to pay a credit subsidy fee as part of the loan program created in 2009 under the federal stimulus package. The company went bankrupt in 2011, leading to political attacks by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Those committees -- chiefly, Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by California Republican Darrell Issa -- charged that Solyndra snagged the award as a payback for campaign contributions to President Obama. A House Republican-led probe, however, found those accusations to be unfounded.

Hanna said that she hopes lawmakers who raised concerns about Solyndra will do the same about the Vogtle nuclear loan guarantee.

"We've been saying all along this is the same program that brought you Solyndra," Hanna said. "We would like to see the lawmakers who raised strong concerns with the loan guarantee program continue to raise concerns."

The nuclear industry and the Obama administration hope that getting the twin 1.1-gigawatt Westinghouse AP1000 reactors across the finish line can jumpstart a U.S. nuclear power renaissance.

"We are working across the board to try to push the technology forward into the marketplace for all of our energy sources," Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a February speech announcing approval of the $6.5 billion in loan guarantees. "The president did make it clear that he sees nuclear energy as a part of America's low-carbon energy portfolio, and of course it already is a major part."

The DOE has yet to finalize the final $1.8 billion tranche it conditionally approved in 2010 for the Vogtle project.

But approval of the loan guarantees in 2010 came as a boom in natural gas production had just gotten underway. That influx of natural gas has lowered prices and sparked construction of new natural gas-fired generators, all but sidelining U.S. nuclear construction and forcing early retirements of some reactors.

Georgia Power has stood by the project despite delays — the reactors are 21 months behind schedule — and cost overruns of $1 billion that now put the project's cost at an estimated $15.5 billion.

Charlotte Baker, an Energy and Commerce spokeswoman, told the Examiner, "We are continuing our oversight of the loan guarantee program and are looking into this issue." Oversight and Government Reform did not respond to a request for comment.

The news comes as the DOE has breathed new life into its loan guarantee program, which had lain relatively dormant in the Solyndra fallout.

On top of the nuclear loan guarantees, the agency announced earlier this month that it would revive an auto loan guarantee program for advanced vehicles. And last week it announced that it would offer up to $4 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy and energy-efficiency technology.

House Republicans approved a budget earlier this month that would end the loan guarantee program. Aside from that, however, the GOP response to the Obama administration's push has been muted.

Tyson Slocum, director of consumer watchdog group Public Citizen's energy program, said he expected much of the same regarding the Vogtle project. He said allegations of cronyism, which were a top-line GOP criticism with Solyndra, wouldn't play in this case because Democrats would gain little by offering political handouts to an electric utility in conservative Georgia.

"The DOE waiver of the subsidy cost payment not only puts taxpayers at risk, but should also put to rest the Issa-led allegations that the Obama administration runs the loan guarantee program to play political favorites. Because I see no political gain for Democrats whatsoever in Georgia as a result," he told the Examiner.

The zeroed out fee stands in contrast to the $880 million it asked from Constellation Energy Group for a nuclear project in Maryland. That upfront fee pushed the utility to shelve the project.

The risk profiles, however, of the proposals for Constellation, which is now owned by Exelon Corp., and Georgia Power are different.

Constellation would have needed to sell its electricity in competitive markets. Georgia Power, though, operates in a regulated market, meaning its customers must purchase the power the eventual nuclear reactors produce and that it can charge them for other costs.

Jack Spencer, a nuclear expert and director of the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, said that while he disagreed with the general idea of the loan guarantee program, the Vogtle reactors were still fairly low risk.

"I don't think this is a huge risk for the taxpayer, but that doesn't mean the government should be subsidizing the capital for them to build it," he told the Examiner.

April 23, 2014

Washington Post hires ultra-liberal former union bully and nobody bats an eye

On Monday, The Washington Post announced it had hired Philip Bump, a journalist currently at Atlantic magazine’s The Wire, to cover politics for their daily blog The Fix.

The move set off a chain of congratulations from across the political press corps.

But lost in the media love fest was Bump’s partisan past — a history left unspoken in either the Post’s official announcement or any of the Twitter applause. Not only does Bump’s archive at The Wire betray a palpable bias in favor of progressivism; his career as a journalist began when he headed a vicious pro-labor blog which published the names and addresses of opponents later targeted by unions.

“We’re excited to announce that Philip Bump ​will be joining The Fix team,” the Post’s public relations team trumpeted Monday afternoon. “Bump has written about politics and the environment at Grist and has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily and Huffington Post.”

The Post’s announcement added that Bump is a former designer at Adobe Systems, a participant in Americorps and a veteran of several political campaigns in Silicon Valley, California.

But what were these political campaigns? According to the political blog San Jose Inside, in 2009 Bump worked for the South Bay Labor Council (SBLC), a Silicon Valley-based union group with a penchant for making the political personal. Cindy Chavez, the group’s former chief executive, frequently targeted political opponents and local journalists who dared to stray from her preferred storyline.

Bump, for his part, was SBLC’s political director and administrator of “San Jose Revealed,” a pro-union website which published vitriolic hit pieces against the Council’s perceived enemies. Although the website was run anonymously, San Jose Inside discovered Bump’s connection through an examination of electronic evidence and two sources who alleged the SBLC made payments to him.

Under his direction, “San Jose Revealed” published the personal address — obtained under spurious circumstances — of a frequent target of pro-union groups. This individual’s home was later vandalized, with property destroyed and defiled with swastika graffiti.

Bump also reportedly published a map to the house of a deputy district attorney who prosecuted violent Bay Area gangs for a living, shamed a local business owner’s daughter for an unpaid garbage bill and posted the Match.com dating profile of an opposing local politician.

While Bump may have moderated his tactics after he began working at more mainstream media outlets, he still wore his liberal politics on his sleeve.

A cursory review of even his most recent articles for The Wire — one mocking former Republican governor Jeb Bush’s bank account, one admittedly “trolling” the conservative Heritage Foundation for “making Obamacare work,” still another suggesting inherent racism in the Republican Party — reveals a talented writer with an unapologetically progressive bent.

Past articles show a proclivity to wax apocalyptic about the scourges of global warming and gun violence, with one piece excoriating Americans who fail to take the “gigantic problem” of climate change seriously and another advocating forced scarcity of bullets as a way to work around Second Amendment protections.

This isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself; many journalists betray open partisanship, and Bump’s pieces appear to be well-written and logically consistent. But for a paper like the Post, which prides itself in objectivity (particularly in its political reporters), it’s noteworthy how little attention was given to their newest hire’s sharp left-wing bent.

Contrast that with the Post’s hiring of Robert Costa, another recent Post employee poached from the conservative National Review. Despite Costa’s utterly objective reporting on the Republican Party — he never wrote an editorial or column for National Review and took care to express that he’s not on the “conservative team” — his hiring last fall was met with surprise by those who never expected the Post to take on even a perceived conservative journalist.

Newsbusters called it “perhaps the first time in decades that a top-tier ‘mainstream’ news outlet has hired away a reporter from a right-leaning publication.” And on the other end of the spectrum, Esquire Magazine noted that Costa “came up through the various nurseries of the longtime white-supremacist journal, National Review.” Unlike Bump, almost no one ignored the ideological component of Costa’s hiring.

In the same Esquire piece, Charles Pierce writes that although Costa’s reporting on last fall’s government shutdown was impeccable, he still “await[s] the first national political reporter that the Post hires from, say, The Nation.”

With Bump — who once contributed to the ultra-liberal Mother Jones — Pierce’s wait appears to be over.


April 22, 2014

Obamacare outreach group gets $13 million at administration’s request

A private foundation donated $13 million to a nonprofit to provide Obamacare outreach after the administration requested the funding, according to a General Accountability Office report.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “contacted the chief executive officers of five organizations to solicit support for one outside entity, Enroll America,” said the GAO report Monday. Enroll America is a nonprofit that promotes the Affordable Care Act.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a public health-focused nonprofit, gave two distinct grants to Enroll America, one for $3 million in April 2013 and a second for $10 million in May, according to the GAO report. The donations came after then-Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Sebelius encouraged donations to Enroll America in a January 2013 phone call, but RWJF officials told the GAO the grants “were not made in response to the Secretary’s call.”

According to the report, Sebelius also sought funding for Enroll America from H&R Block and requested “nonfinancial support, such as technical assistance, from Ascension Health, Johnson & Johnson and Kaiser, which consists of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plans and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals.”

H&R Block officials told the GAO that though they considered making a donation prior to Sebelius’ request, they ultimately decided against it. But prior to the decision, HHS officials said that when H&R Block’s CEO discussed a potential donation with Sebelius, the secretary “suggest an amount higher than what H&R Block had said it was considering.”

On Enroll America’s part, the nonprofit’s representatives “asked the Secretary to request financial support from the three organizations” — meaning Ascension,  Johnson & Johnson and Kaiser — and that “in at least one case, Enroll America asked HHS to solicit specific levels of financial support.”

The Obama administration unsurprisingly maintains that the fundraising is legal and the GAO report did not issue any opinions on its legality. But the results raise questions about both the legality and propriety of HHS fundraising — the department directly regulates Kaiser, Ascension and Johnson & Johnson.

But the fundraising may have not been limited to HHS. The GAO spoke to a RWJF employee who reported speaking to a White House official, the deputy assistant to the president for health policy, in 2012, about Enroll America.

The official “indicated a hope that R.W.J.F. would provide a significant financial contribution to support Enroll America,” the report found. While not named, the White House’s Jeanne Lambrew holds that position. White House officials maintained that Lambrew “did not make a specific funding request on behalf of Enroll America.”

Enroll America,  was founded by former White House official Anne Filipic, but according to the GAO report, fundraising efforts may have reached to the White House itself as well.


April 21, 2014

Obama admin wants to require companies to give workers’ numbers, addresses to unions before labor elections

The Obama administration is poised to change regulations to allow for union “ambush elections” in which workers have less time to decide whether or not to join a union — and in which workers’ phone numbers and home addresses are provided to unions.

The administration’s National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) proposed rules would allow for union elections — in which workers at a company vote whether or not to unionize — to be held 10 days after a petition is filed. And what, exactly, would be happening to the unions during those 10 days? The new rules require employers to disclose workers’ personal information, including phone numbers, home addresses, and information about when they work their shifts.

Insiders close to the situation believe the new rules will almost certainly go into effect with few or no fundamental changes.

“The members of the Board went through two days of grueling hearings that went into the evening. They asked plenty of probing questions. But I wonder if any minds were changed at all,” Workforce Fairness Institute spokesman Fred Wszolek, who recently testified at an NLRB hearing in opposition to the rule, told The Daily Caller.

“Certainly some parts of the proposed rule will be changed at the margin. But it seems very likely that going forward, union organizing elections will happen much more quickly and more private contact information of employees will be turned over to the unions,” Wszolek said.

“If Board members wanted to truly modernize these rules, they would do two things. First, leave the timetable alone. Thirty or forty days to hold an election is not a long time. Let people think about it. Second, if you’re going to give access to unions any personal email addresses a company has, fine. But let’s protect the privacy of workers by no longer requiring companies to give to the union the home addresses of workers. It’s very hard to intimidate or coerce a worker by email. But it’s much easier to intimidate or coerce a worker when you’re standing on their doorstep,” Wszolek said.

As TheDC previously reported, United Auto Workers (UAW) members in black shirts recently paced the assembly line intimidating workers during normal business hours before the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee voted not to unionize. The NLRB is holding a hearing Monday to determine whether or not to discard the plant’s election results, on the grounds that they were tainted by outside sources, and allow the plant to be unionized.

April 18, 2014

White House to use executive orders to aid the solar industry

The White House announced on Thursday it was launching a $15 million dollar “Solar Market Pathways” program to help state, local and tribal governments expand their solar energy production.

“To advance our nation’s energy and climate goals, the United States must be a leader in innovating and deploying clean energy,” the White House said. “Solar is a vital component of the Administration’s all-of the above strategy. Supported by historic investments in research, development, and deployment, the price of solar technologies has decreased and the U.S. solar market has experienced rapid growth since President Obama took office.”

“But the President is committed to continuing the momentum,” the White House added. “The White House is also calling, today for new commitments from the private sector and non-profits to support solar deployment and jobs.”

But it doesn’t end there, the White House also proposes powering more federal housing projects and state and local government buildings and schools with solar energy. The EPA’s announced it will double on-site renewable energy generation through its “Green Power Partnership” by the end of the decade.

President Obama’s new solar push, of course, comes with more financing for solar energy facilities and panels. This includes $2.5 billion from the Energy Department for more loan guarantees for solar projects — the same loan guarantees that were given to failed companies like Solyndra and Abound Solar.

This announcement comes as the Energy Department announces i’’s looking to issue $4 billion in green energy loan guarantees and that the Defense Department is planning to expand its use of green energy sources.

Previous efforts by the Obama administration to promote green energy use have been criticized by Republicans after several high-profile failures tainted such efforts. Companies like Solyndra and Abound got hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees only to fail after years of mismanagement.

Abound filed for bankruptcy in June 2012 after drawing down on $70 million of its $400 million Energy Department loan guarantee. The Daily Caller News Foundation reported in 2012 that the company knowingly took taxpayer dollars while making faulty solar panels that routinely caught fire.

“Our solar modules worked as long as you didn’t put them in the sun,” an internal source in the company told TheDCNF.

The Energy Department’s inspector general released a report on Thursday that government officials ignored expert advice about the company’s potential problems.

“We found that [DOE's] internal solar expert had previously expressed concerns to the program regarding deficiencies in Abound’s quality control,” the IG wrote.

Solyndra’s failure sparked Republican criticisms that the Obama administration was playing venture capitalist and losing. The company failed in September 2011 after getting $535 million from the Obama administration.

The Obama administration says that the costs of solar have come down dramatically in the past few years, meaning the technology is much more viable today than it was in the past. Solar energy made up 30 percent of the newly installed electric generation capacity for 2013.

“Without question, the Obama administration has been the most solar-friendly ever,” Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told The Washington Post.

But solar energy is still expensive and heavily subsidized. Despite being heavily subsidized, solar power made up only about 0.11 percent of U.S. electrical generation in 2012, according to the Energy Information Administration.


April 17, 2014

IRS emails reveal discussion with Justice about suing nonprofits

IRS emails released Wednesday show that just before the tea party targeting scandal was revealed last year, Lois G. Lerner and her colleagues at the tax agency were talking with the Justice Department about making examples out of nonprofit groups that they felt were violating campaign laws by playing political roles.

The emails, obtained by Judicial Watch, also show that Ms. Lerner was reluctant to face questions from Congress even before her first hearing, at which she asserted her right to remain silent. It was an indication that she distrusted Republican motives from the start.

The emails also show how important congressional Democrats were in pushing for action at the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department, which talked about how to follow up on a senator’s demand to pursue a test case against a nonprofit group that was spending money on politics.

“Not only do these emails further prove the coordination among the IRS, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the Justice Department and committee Democrats to target conservatives, they also show that had our committee not requested the Inspector General’s investigation when we did, Eric Holder’s politicized Justice Department would likely have been leveling trumped up criminal charges against Tea Party groups to intimidate them from exercising their Constitutional rights,” Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who is leading an investigative subcommittee looking into the IRS, said in a statement.

In May 2013, just before the IRS targeting was publicly exposed, Ms. Lerner fielded a request from the Justice Department to talk about following up on Senate Democrats’ push to prosecute groups that the lawmakers thought “lied” when they told the FEC that they wouldn’t be conducting political activities but made political expenditures anyway.

The Justice Department requested a meeting to talk about what to do and wanted to know whether that would interfere with the IRS.

“I think we should do it,” Ms. Lerner replied in an internal IRS email laying out early plans for the meeting.
A day after that communication, the IRS admitted to targeting tea party groups. It’s unclear whether the meeting ever took place.

Earlier in 2013, IRS employees were talking on another email chain about the push among some campaign finance activists to have the IRS sue a nonprofit group over its campaign activities. In her part of the conversation, Ms. Lerner said her boss from a prior job at the FEC was one of those pushing for a lawsuit.

“This is their latest push to shut these down. One IRS prosecution would make an impact and they wouldn’t feel so comfortable doing the stuff,” Ms. Lerner said.

But in another part of that email thread, she acknowledged that it would be difficult to define “whether a particular expenditure was political intervention.”

“Whether there was a false statement or fraud regarding [a] description of an alleged political expenditure that doesn’t say vote for or vote against is not realistic under current law,” she said. “Everyone is looking for a magic bullet or scapegoat — there isn’t one. The law in this area is just hard.”

Judicial Watch said it had to sue to compel the IRS to turn over the emails.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has told Congress that his agency already has turned over hundreds of thousands of documents, but it will be the end of the year before his agency can turn over the rest of Ms. Lerner’s emails and years before it can produce all of the documents that House Republicans have demanded.

In the meantime, Republicans are pushing ahead with action against Ms. Lerner.

Last week, just before a two-week recess, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted to hold Ms. Lerner in contempt of Congress and the House Ways and Means Committee voted to refer criminal charges to the Justice Department.

Both of those resolutions, which cleared the committees on party-line votes, will need to go to the full House for approval.

Ms. Lerner has denied wrongdoing, and her attorney has accused Republicans of partisanship.

“The vote is the latest event in the majority’s never-ending effort to keep the IRS story alive through this fall’s midterm elections,” William W. Taylor III said after the oversight committee’s contempt vote.

Ms. Lerner has done nothing wrong. She did not violate any law or regulation. She did not mislead Congress. She did not interfere with the rights of any organization to a tax exemption,” he said.

The IRS inspector general reported that the agency improperly targeted tea party and conservative groups for intrusive scrutiny and held up many of their applications asking for nonprofit status.

Some of those applications, filed as early as 2010, were still pending as of the middle of last month.

The emails released by Judicial Watch on Wednesday show that the agency didn’t deny any applications and kept many of them pending until they saw the inspector general’s scorching audit.


April 16, 2014

After IRS stonewalls, Tea Party Patriots sues for documents on targeting

The group Tea Party Patriots filed suit on this Tax Day against the Internal Revenue Service for documents about the agency’s infamous targeting of conservative groups last year.

The group hopes the documents will shed more light on why conservative and tea party groups were singled out for extra scrutiny by the IRS while applying for non-profit status ahead of the 2012 election.

Tea Party Patriots also wants to learn more about the specific roles of former IRS official Lois Lerner and other Obama administration officials in developing these regulations that led to the special targeting, officials said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters.

Specifically, the suit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, demands documents relating to the IRS’ infamous “Guidance for Tax Exempt Social Welfare Organizations on Candidate-Related Political Activities.”

The Tea Party Patriots first requested these documents through a Freedom of Information Act request in December. The group said it has not been granted any documents yet.

The suit also is filed against the Treasury Department.

Responding to a question from The Daily Caller, Cleta Mitchell, an attorney representing Tea Party Patriots, described what the group really wants to know from these documents.

“We want to know the role of Treasury,” Mitchell said. “We want to know the role of the White House. We want to know the role of Democratic members of Congress and organizations that were demanding that tea party and conservative groups be targeted.”


April 15, 2014

How the Obama administration turned the latest IPCC report into meaningless gobbledegook

Even by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's own lamentable standards, its new report - by Working Group III of the Fifth Assessment Report - makes no sense whatsoever.

Perhaps it never did but what definitely made it worse was the politicised meddling of the Obama administration.

Before the report's formal release, US officials - who had seen an earlier draft - wrote to the United Nations demanding it be amended.
"The discussion of the economic costs of mitigation is too narrow and does not incorporate co-benefits of action."
Loosely translated this means: "If we admit how much we're spending to such little purpose, the taxpaying public is going to kill us."

So the report was duly amended to suggest that the benefits of wind turbines, solar panels, biofuels - not to mention the losses entailed by leaving fossil fuels in the ground - more than offset the massive costs and inconvenience involved.

This presumably is why the left-wing Guardian was able to give its coverage the headline "IPCC climate change report: averting catastrophe is eminently affordable".
Catastrophic climate change can be averted without sacrificing living standards according to a UN report, which concludes that the transformation required to a world of clean energy is eminently affordable. 
“It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” said economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, who led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team.
Perhaps this was an accurate summation of the report if you read it a certain way. But equally, it was accurate to report, as Breitbart London did, that it was basically a wish list for the eco-fascist new world order.

Or - as some other newspapers did - you could decide that the report's main take home message that the IPCC had now come round to the virtues of nuclear energy and was guardedly approving of shale gas.

How could the report lend itself to such different conclusions? Because it was written by a vast international committee and then tinkered with further by politicians in order to be all things to all men.

Problem is when you try pleasing everyone you end up pleasing nobody.

But at least there's one thing on which almost everyone ought to be able agree. This truly is the lamest report in the IPCC's history. 

April 14, 2014

Nevada ranch standoff could leave dirt on Harry Reid’s reputation

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said little as federal agents seized and then released cattle last week from the Bundy ranch, but there is little doubt that the highly charged episode was threatening to become a political headache for the Nevada Democrat.

The Bureau of Land Management is headed by former longtime Reid aide Neil Kornze, who was confirmed by the Senate as BLM director on Tuesday, just as federal authorities descended on the cattle ranch outside Mesquite, Nev.

Mr. Kornze issued a statement Saturday saying that the bureau would return the cattle and withdraw its agents from the ranch as a result of safety concerns after clashes between law enforcement and the Bundy family’s growing legion of supporters.

“Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public,” Mr. Kornze said.

“We ask that all parties in the area remain peaceful and law-abiding as the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service work to end the operation in an orderly manner,” he said.

Speculation spiked in recent days over Mr. Reid’s connection to the BLM episode, in which federal contractors seized about 400 head of cattle from 68-year-old rancher Cliven Bundy over his refusal to pay an estimated $1 million in grazing fees over 20 years.

“It was likely pressure from upstairs, rather than weapons from the field, that changed his mind on the matter,” the liberal group Americans Against the Tea Party said in an online post. “Fact is, Harry Reid probably didn’t want his name attached to the biggest civilian massacre in U.S. history right before election season.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada’s largest newspaper, criticized the BLM’s handling of the situation in a Friday editorial, saying the “federal government is all about intimidation and overreach.”

The grazing dispute was escalating quickly. Law enforcement reportedly used a stun gun twice on Mr. Bundy’s son Ammon during confrontations, and hundreds of supporters were driving in from out of state to demonstrate against the cattle confiscation.

Cliven Bundy has argued that his family’s cattle have grazed on the land for more than 100 years, before the BLM was founded and before a federal decision was issued to restrict grazing to protect the desert tortoise. He also has said any fees would be due to local government, not federal agencies.

“The people have the power when they unite,” Ammon Bundy told reporters last week, the Review-Journal reported. “The war has just begun.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, criticized the BLM’s cordoning of “free-speech areas” near the ranch and warned the agency to “be mindful of its conduct.”

“The safety of all individuals involved in this matter has been my highest priority,” Mr. Sandoval said in a Saturday statement. “Given the circumstances, today’s outcome is the best we could have hoped for. I appreciate that the Department of the Interior and the BLM were willing to listen to the concerns of the people of Nevada.”

On Sunday, BLM spokesman Craig Leff told The Associated Press that “the door isn’t closed” to an administrative or judicial resolution with the Bundys.

Mr. Kornze, 35, worked as a senior policy adviser on land-use issues in Mr. Reid’s office from 2003 to 2011 before joining the BLM. He was confirmed by the Senate on a 71-28 vote after serving as the agency’s principal deputy director, even though Republicans had qualms about his lack of experience compared with past BLM directors.

During the confirmation hearing Dec. 17, Mr. Reid called his former aide “just perfect for the job,” even as Republicans noted that previous BLM directors Bob Abbey and Jim Caswell were career federal land managers each with more than 30 years’ experience.

“I remain concerned you lack the experience required for the position of BLM director,” Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, told Mr. Kornze at the hearing, according to the Review-Journal.

Mr. Reid made no public statement after Mr. Kornze announced the BLM’s decision.

Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, urged those who had gathered in support of the Bundy family to return home.

“The dispute is over, the BLM is leaving, but emotions and tensions are still near the boiling point, and we desperately need a peaceful conclusion to this conflict,” Mr. Heller said in a Saturday statement. “I urge all the people involved to please return to your homes and allow the BLM officers to collect their equipment and depart without interference.”


April 11, 2014

Ted Cruz: Congress Should Impeach Eric Holder If He Takes No Action on IRS Targeting Scandal

On the day the House Oversight Committee held Lois Lerner in contempt, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said Congress should impeach Attorney General Eric Holder if he does not indict those like Lerner for their roles in the IRS's targeting of conservative groups.

In a Thursday appearance on Sean Hannity's radio program, Cruz said Holder should be impeached for "defying Congress and the rule of law." He said Holder's actions were not in the spirit of the Department of Justice, which Cruz said has "a bipartisan tradition of resisting partisan pressure and upholding the rule of law." Cruz cited examples of Holder's predecessors (Janet Reno and Elliot Richardson, respectively) from Bill Clinton's and Richard Nixon's administrations. 

Cruz said he was "very pleased" that Lerner was held in contempt by the House Committee but noted that the Justice Department has not indicted one person eight months after the inspector general concluded that the IRS had wrongfully targeted conservative groups. He blistered the Obama administration for appointing a Democrat who was a bundler for Obama's campaign to head the IRS investigation, and he said that would be akin to John Mitchell investigating Richard Nixon. 

Cruz called Holder "the most partisan attorney general the country has ever had." 

Cruz also blasted Obama for a "pattern of lawlessness" that "is breathtaking" and "dangerous" for liberty. 
"We have never seen a president consistently ignores the law and brazenly defies the law," Cruz said, noting that Obama has ignored immigration, marriage, drug, and welfare laws. 

Cruz mentioned that Obama has unilaterally changed Obamacare nearly 30 times even though there is "no basis for him to change the law" in the Constitution.

April 10, 2014

Darrell Issa says emails suggest Elijah Cummings prompted IRS targeting of True the Vote

This story was published at 4:33 p.m. and has been updated with a response from Rep. Cummings.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has accused the panel's top Democrat of prompting the Internal Revenue Service in 2012 to target a conservative organization applying for non-profit status.

Issa said records obtained last week from the IRS show communications from the office of ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., about True the Vote, a Texas-based, non-profit conservative group that aims to prevent voter fraud.

The communications at one point involved Lois Lerner, the ex-IRS official whom Issa's panel is poised to hold in contempt of Congress on Thursday for refusing to provide testimony about her involvement in targeting conservative groups.

“The IRS and the Oversight Minority made numerous requests for virtually identical information from True the Vote, raising concerns that the IRS improperly shared protected taxpayer information with Rep. Cummings’ staff,” a statement from the Oversight panel reads.

According to Issa, Cummings and his staff sought “copies of all training materials used for volunteers, affiliates, or other entities,” from True the Vote.

Five days after the Cummings inquiry, the IRS sent True the Vote an email requesting “a copy of [True the Vote’s] volunteer registration form,” “… the process you use to assign volunteers,” “how you keep your volunteers in teams,” and “how your volunteers are deployed … following the training they receive by you.”

Issa said Cummings and his office asked for more information in January 2013 about True the Vote, this time getting Lerner involved.

At one point, an email revealed, Lerner asked her deputy, “Did we find anything?”

When the deputy said she had not received any new information, Lerner responded, “thanks – check tomorrow please.”

Issa said Cummings had previously denied asking the IRS about True the Vote.

At a February subcommittee hearing, when Issa asked whether his office may have put True the Vote “on the radar screen” of the IRS, Cummings said the accusation was “absolutely incorrect and untrue.”

Issa and other GOP panel members have sent a letter to Cummings, asking him to respond to the newly uncovered emails.

In his response, Cummings said the GOP has falsely accused him of wrongly contacting the IRS about True the Vote. Cummings said in the letter that he has publicly stated his interest in finding more about True the Vote, which supports voter ID laws that Cummings opposes.

Cummings said in his letter that his inquiries were appropriate and did not violate any rules. His requests, Cummings added, were for publicly available information.

Cummings said the letter from Issa and others Republicans is "a desperate attempt to shift the focus on tomorrow's contempt vote away from the serious Constitutional deficiencies in these proceedings."

April 9, 2014

Holder claims 'vast amount' of discretion in enforcing federal laws

Attorney General Eric Holder maintained Tuesday that he has a “vast amount” of discretion in how the Justice Department prosecutes federal law.

Holder’s remarks, during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, came in response to GOP accusations that he is flouting the law with his department’s positions on marijuana legalization, criminal sentencing and a contentious provision of the president’s signature healthcare law.

Leading the questioning was House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who asked Holder whether he believed there were any limits to the administration’s prosecutorial discretion.

“There is a vast amount of discretion that a president has — and, more specifically, that an attorney general has,” Holder responded. “But that discretion has to be used in an appropriate way so that your acting consistent with the aims of the statute but at the same time making sure that you are acting in a way that is consistent with our values, consistent with the Constitution and protecting the American people.”

Holder said the Justice Department must defend federal laws on the books unless it concludes that “there is no basis to defend the statute.”

He cited, for example, the administration’s decision no longer to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibited same-sex couples from receiving certain federal benefits. That position, Holder noted, was upheld by the Supreme Court, which later struck down main provisions of the statute.

Republicans on the panel argued, however, that the Obama administration has gone to unprecedented lengths in its liberal use of discretion on several fronts.

“All of this demonstrates a pattern on the part of the Obama administration to ignore or rewrite the very legislation that places limits on the executive branch authority, for purely political purposes,” Goodlatte said.

Historically, the boundaries of prosecutorial discretion are murky, making it difficult for the administration’s critics to say Holder or President Obama has crossed them, UCLA law professor Adam Winkler said.

But, more than its predecessors, the Obama administration has used prosecutorial discretion on some of the day’s most divisive issues, inviting criticism from his opponents on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Winkler said.

He cited the DOMA stance and the administration’s decision to halt deportations of many illegal immigrants, among other cases.

“This administration has gotten into hot water because it has used prosecutorial discretion in high profile, controversial areas,” Winker said.

On Tuesday, Republicans also grilled Holder on the Obama administration’s decision not to interfere with marijuana legalization efforts in Colorado and elsewhere, as long as states establish adequate regulations.

Goodlatte criticized the decision, saying it is tantamount to ignoring the law.

“The Justice Department’s decision not to enforce the Controlled Substances Act in states whose laws violate federal law is not a valid exercise of prosecutorial discretion, but a formal department-wide policy of selective non-enforcement of an Act of Congress,” Goodlatte said.

Holder countered that the DOJ was merely focusing on the most dangerous aspects of marijuana crime, such as trafficking or sales to minors.

“We don’t prosecute every violation of federal law,” he said. “We don’t have the capacity to do that and so what we try to do is make determinations about how we use our limited resources.”

Under Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, the DOJ has altered the charging policies with regard to mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent, low-level drug crimes.

Democrats on the panel lauded the move.

“In a country where nearly half of all federal inmates are serving time for drug offenses, the harshest [punishment] should be reserved for violent offenders,” said Rep. John Conyers (Mich.), the committee’s top Democrat.

But Goodlatte said judicial decisions meant to avoid triggering “mandatory minimum” sentences would put Holder at odds with the law.

“The attorney general’s directive, along with contradicting an act of Congress, puts his own front-line prosecutors in the unenviable position of either defying their boss or violating their oath of candor to the court,” he said.

Holder also faced questions from Republicans on the legality of the administration’s decision to delay the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

In a terse back and forth with Holder, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) argued that because an implementation date had been written specifically into the legislation, the executive branch had no authority to delay it.

“When Congress puts effective dates in laws, do we need to further state that the effective date cannot be waived or modified by the executive branch, or is the president required to follow the law, and also follow the dates set by Congress?” Chabot asked.

Holder responded that “the president has the duty, obviously, to follow the law,” but that “it would depend on the statute” and statutory interpretation of the law.

Holder also sought to deflect criticism over remarks he made during a speech to state attorneys general, which Chabot interpreted as suggesting they need not defend state laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

“What I said was decisions not to defend statutes should not be based on politics or policy…” Holder said.

“You guys would never do that,” Chabot interrupted, with more than a hint of sarcasm.

Tensions also flared when Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) renewed a request for documents related to the Fast and Furious arms-trafficking operation.

“I realize that contempt is not a big deal to our Attorney General but it is important that we have proper oversight,” the Texas Republican said, referring to the House’s 2012 vote to hold Holder in contempt for withholding information about the botched operation.

Angered, the usually reserved Holder wagged a finger at Gohmert.

“You don’t want to go there, buddy, all right?,” he said.

“I don’t want to go there?” responded Gohmert. “About the contempt?”

“No. You should not assume that that is not a big deal to me,” Holder replied. “I think it was inappropriate, I think it was unjust, but never think that that was just a big deal to me. Don’t ever think that.”


April 8, 2014

Handling of former IRS employee Lois Lerner makes lawyers cringe

As the House prepares for several key votes on former Internal Revenue Service employee Lois G. Lerner and potential legal action, analysts say she and her attorney have mishandled their case by picking and choosing when they want to talk, and to whom they are willing to talk.

Ms. Lerner faces a vote in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday that could begin the process of accusing her of contempt of Congress. The Ways and Means Committee announced that it will hold a vote Wednesday on whether to officially accuse Ms. Lerner of breaking the law by targeting tea party groups.

The congressional moves escalate House Republicans’ effort to highlight Ms. Lerner’s role in the IRS targeting, which has turned into a major legal battle on Capitol Hill.

Lawyers say Ms. Lerner and her legal team may have stumbled on several occasions, including by initially professing her innocence but refusing to talk to Congress last year, then agreeing to provide information to the Justice Department without any promise of immunity, and then refusing yet again to talk to House investigators about the same subject.

Hans A. Von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said courts in Washington have decided that someone can’t pick and choose whom they waive their Fifth Amendment rights to, and whom they choose to speak to.

“When Lerner gave a lengthy interview to the government, she waived the Fifth. There’s no doubt about it,” Mr. Von Spakovsky said. “The law is crystal clear here in the District of Columbia. That means when she showed up March 5, she was obligated to provide the same information.”

Ms. Lerner’s legal problems could increase this week with the two committee votes. The oversight committee will consider a resolution asking to hold Ms. Lerner in contempt for refusing to testify, while the Ways and Means Committee will debate whether to refer her to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution “for violations of one or more criminal statutes based on evidence the committee has uncovered in the court of the investigation of IRS abuses.”

Ms. Lerner, who retired from the IRS in September, ran the agency’s division overseeing nonprofits at a time when, according to an internal audit, her division was improperly scrutinizing and delaying conservative groups’ applications.

Republicans say the information they have gathered shows Ms. Lerner wanted to target tea party groups in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that allowed interest groups to spend more freely on issue ads during political campaigns.

Now, Democrats and Republicans are enmeshed in a legal struggle with Ms. Lerner and her attorney, William Taylor III, over her involvement in the IRS scandal and over how they have handled the aftermath.

In a letter last week, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, said he believed Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, was trying to work out a secret deal with Ms. Lerner that would involve immunity from prosecution.

“In discussions with my staff, Mr. Taylor states that his client does not fear prosecution and would not make any incriminating statements if she testified, with or without immunity,” Mr. Issa wrote to Mr. Cummings. “Ms. Lerner does not require immunity to testify truthfully about facts that would not incriminate her.”

He demanded that Mr. Cummings reveal any secret conversations he had with Ms. Lerner’s legal team.

Mr. Cummings said it was “false and ridiculous” to say he was insisting on granting Ms. Lerner immunity and that it was Mr. Issa who raised the prospect of immunity at the first hearing last May.

“The more important question is why Chairman Issa inexplicably rejected an offer from Ms. Lerner’s attorney to have her testify with a simple one-week extension — an offer that every single Democratic committee member would have accepted instantly had Chairman Issa bothered to consult with them,” Mr. Cummings said. “It appears that Chairman Issa is more interested in generating partisan conflict than in obtaining the facts.”

Mr. Issa, in his letter, said Mr. Taylor has given markedly mixed signals about what he would agree to on behalf of his client.

Indeed, a House counsel’s memo from last month details the various offers Mr. Taylor made, including suggesting Ms. Lerner would testify if given a week’s delay in March, then taking that offer, “if that is what it was,” off the table. Asked specifically whether he had a request, Mr. Taylor said, “She will appear Wednesday.”

Several lawyers questioned Mr. Taylor’s handling of the situation from the start of the case, including Ms. Lerner’s initial speech asserting her innocence.

“Her lawyer was sitting behind her, and every other lawyer in town was cringing, watching the TV screen,” said one lawyer who asked not to be named, saying the legal community is small and tightly knit. But the lawyer said Mr. Taylor broke several basic rules for handling such situations, including letting his client speak and allowing his back-and-forth negotiations with Mr. Issa’s committee to be put in writing.

Mr. Taylor’s office declined to comment, but he has said he no longer trusted the House investigative process to be fair to Ms. Lerner.

A Democratic staffer said Mr. Issa has raised the prospects of a proffer, or agreement about the scope of information to be given, and that Mr. Taylor appeared ready to agree to one.

The staffer said that was what Mr. Cummings was trying to get to at the March 5 hearing, when Mr. Issa ended proceedings and cut off Mr. Cummings‘ microphone after Ms. Lerner again refused to testify.

Mr. Cummings has armed himself with legal evaluations from more than two dozen lawyers saying Ms. Lerner shouldn’t face contempt charges. Mr. Issa has the House counsel’s opinion saying she remains in jeopardy.

Stanley M. Brand, one of those who backed Mr. Cummings‘ reading, said if Republicans see the matter to the end, it will end up in court, where a final resolution likely would be years away.

“You have dueling lawyer opinions that don’t really mean anything of themselves. I include myself in that. What has to happen is it has to get to a court, and the only way it’s going to get to a court is if the full House of Representatives takes action to authorize litigation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the oversight committee released a staff report disputing Democrats’ claims that the IRS targeted liberal groups, too.

The 141-page report says that while some liberal groups were caught up in the inappropriate scrutiny and delays, the vast majority of applications blocked were from tea party and other conservative organizations. Indeed, the first three “test” cases were all conservative groups.