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Yet another deadline in a congressional investigation into wrongdoing at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has passed without movement. HUD’s failure to provide all documents requested by Congress is disappointing because it stalls an ongoing investigation of improper salary payments to HUD officials who obstructed an inquiry into improprieties in HUD’s handling of housing fraud lawsuits against the city of St. Paul, Minn. Action on the part of Secretary Carson on this front is a key test of President Trump’s promise to restore good government. Fortunately, HUD’s scheduling of a long overdue briefing to Congress today may represent progress on this score.
St. Paul had been accused of making false certifications on HUD community development grant applications that illegally funneled $62 million into its coffers. This week’s briefing, however, focuses on HUD’s efforts to stonewall a related current investigation of unlawful salary payments to two senior HUD officials who ordered department employees not to speak to congressional investigators during a now concluded earlier probe.
HUD had inappropriately dropped its support for a whistleblower lawsuit against the city that provided a promising opportunity to recover up to $200 million for U.S. taxpayers. HUD did St. Paul this favor in exchange for the city withdrawing Magner v. Gallagher, a pending Supreme Court case that jeopardized a legal doctrine HUD wanted to continue to use as a coercive tool against state and local governments to expand the scope of federal authority in national housing policy.
The issue in last week’s deadline is HUD’s failure to provide congressional investigators with documents and a briefing relating to the improper payments made to the officials who obstructed the St. Paul probe. Congress made its first requests in a June 22, 2016 letter after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) legal opinion ruled that senior HUD personnel violated Section 713 of the 2012 Appropriations Act by instructing two other employees not to speak with Congress and were therefore ineligible to receive salary payments during the violation period, and that HUD should recover these payments as required by law. Congress repeated these requests twice without effect – first when Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley raised the issue with current HUD secretary Ben Carson, and yet again in a May 3, 2017 letter to Dr. Carson that set Wednesday as the reply deadline.
Americans should be gravely concerned that senior HUD officials have spurned congressional demands for information concerning HUD’s non-compliance with the Section 713 prohibition on payments to personnel who obstruct Congress. Such obfuscation, interference, and delay cripple the effectiveness of congressional investigations, thereby dangerously weakening the vital constitutional function of oversight. The very ability of citizens to hold government accountable is threatened if Congress cannot reliably obtain information from the executive branch and prohibit federal officials from thwarting its investigations.
We should be even more alarmed that HUD’s actions in the Section 713 non-compliance inquiry represent a deeper pattern of insolent disregard for Congress and repudiation of the rule of law that has violated the rights of citizens seeking justice in the courts, deterred future whistleblowers, heaped unnecessary financial burdens of corruption on taxpayers, and deprived low-income residents of needed opportunities.
President Trump and Secretary Carson must act decisively to begin reversing these corrosive trends by immediately providing to Congress all documents requested in the May 3 letter to Secretary Carson and initiating action to recover the improper payments to the officials who interfered with the investigation of HUD’s misconduct in the St. Paul case. To do otherwise is to condone these toxic practices and invite them to grow even deeper roots at HUD and elsewhere throughout the federal bureaucracy. We should all hope today’s briefing will be a productive first step toward achieving these goals.
[Originally Published at American Thinker]