JUNE 20, 2014
America Opens its Heart and the VA Closes its Doors
When Barack Obama tried to defend his highly controversial and questionable deal to trade five cutthroat terrorists for a likely deserter, he lashed out at critics, repeatedly proclaiming, “We don’t leave soldiers behind. … Period. Full stop.” Tell that to America’s veterans who have languished at home and in waiting rooms while the Obama Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has denied them desperately needed medical care.
As Judicial Watch has now revealed in its release of internal VA documents obtained in late March, the Obama administration has left behind tens of thousands of sick and injured veterans for the past six years. In fact, according to the JW documents, the VA not only refused veterans medical attention, it ordered a nationwide “mass purge” of MRI orders for thousands of veterans awaiting treatment, many dating back nearly a decade.
And, believe it or not, it gets even worse. The internal documents obtained by Judicial Watch also revealed that on November 25, 2009, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was informed that top VA officials had ordered the nationwide purge of “all outstanding [MRI] imaging orders for studies older than 6 months.” Yet, seven days later, on December 2, 2009, the OIG closed its investigation without taking further action.
The documents obtained by Judicial Watch also detail repeated efforts by VA whistleblower Oliver Mitchell, a Marine veteran and former patient services assistant, to persuade the OIG to fully investigate the mass destruction of veterans’ medical files and the cancellation of examination requests. The documents, dating back to 2009, reveal that OIG spent barely two months investigating the allegations before closing the case.
The VA documents came in response to a February 27, 2014, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Judicial Watch seeking “records of communications between officials of the Veterans Administration Greater Los Angeles Medical Center [GLA] from August 1, 2008, to July 30, 2009, relating to the destruction of patient medical files and the cancellation of medical exam requests.” The FOIA request also sought records in the possession of the Veterans Administration’s Office of Inspector General relating to the GLA’s alleged destruction of patients’ medical files and examination requests.
In response to the FOIA request Judicial Watch received two batches of documents from the VA OIG. The first was a five-page documentcontaining the revelation that the GLA had sent a memo to the OIG in November 2009 revealing that Dr. Charles Anderson, the VA National Radiology Director, had sent instructions to conduct the purge. According to the GLA memo, sent in response to an OIG inquiry:
During the period of time in question, the backlog of outstanding requests for MRI Imaging studies across the Veterans Health Administration dated back 10 years. Central Office and the office of Dr. Charles Anderson, National Radiology Director, instructed all Imaging Services across the country to mass purge all outstanding imaging orders for studies older than 6 months, where the procedure was no longer needed, and with approval from the individual healthcare system’s Medical Executive Committee (MEC) ….
Significantly, the memo failed to explain either how decisions were made as to which “procedures were no longer needed,” or what would warrant the “approval from the individual healthcare system.” Yet, there is no record of the OIG following up with obvious questions about procedures and approvals. They simply took the word of those under investigation that everything was all right, that they should just move on, that there is nothing to see here.
The OIG investigation (such as it was) lasted only from September 23 to December 2, 2009 – barely more than two months. And, then, as I mentioned above, it was closed within seven days after the OIG received the GLA’s self-exculpatory memo.
The Washington Examinerreported that Catherine Gromek, spokeswoman for the OIG, justified the perfunctory nature of the investigation, claiming that her office “lacks sufficient resources to investigate all of the 30,000 tips it receives annually. Typically it will simply ask for a response from agency managers. That is what was done in [whistleblower Oliver] Mitchell’s case.”
Mitchell, in his memos, explained it far more candidly.The Daily Callerreported him as saying, “It’s a numbers thing. The waiting list counts against the hospitals efficiency. The longer the veteran waits for an exam that counts against the hospital as far as productivity is concerned.” So, the VA simply conducted a “mass purge” to protect its own records.
Another document obtained by Judicial Watch in response to its February VA FOIA request included verbatim disclosures and accusations made by Mitchell, then a Patient Services Assistant in the VA’s Radiology Section. The Mitchell memos, repeatedly urging the OIG to act, had not been previously released to the public before JW’s early June revelations:
- May 12, 2009: “From June 2008 to September 2008 the current interim chief stated, ‘Our clinic had the worst performance numbers compared to other VA’s nationwide’… she also stated ‘management stated no MRI orders should be cancelled and/or deleted’ … Shortly thereafter, I noticed that requests for MRIs were being cancelled dating from the year 2000 to November 2008. I approached the current interim chief about this matter in which she responded ‘management was all over her and she had to do something.’”
- March 24, 2009: “Since my employment within this department I have witnessed ‘valid requests for MRI’s’ being cancelled and/or deleted from the system as a means of reducing the number of requests for MRI’s pending. This has been ongoing since my employment here. It is my opinion that the harassment, death threats and threats of termination I have received are due to my vocal opposition to this practice.”
- March 24, 2009: “In February 2009 I received via voicemail a complaint from the daughter of a Veteran who stated her father had come to the VA for care and the doctor had submitted a request for a MRI. The daughter expressed great sadness and anger in our process stating her father had suffered from a massive stroke while waiting for his MRI appointment. I informed Dr. [REDACTED] of the voicemail and her response was to give her the request and not speak of the matter, she stated, ‘I already have enough tort claims as it is.’ Shortly after this, I noticed that more requests were being deleted from the system.”
- May 12, 2009: “It is my opinion that this department has not been able to meet its mandated obligations with regards to performance. The administrative process is flawed and has resulted in deaths, continued pain and suffering and an overall decline in Veterans’ health due to the lengthy wait for an MRI.”
The VA internal documents obtained and released by Judicial Watch show that the Obama administration long knew of the deadly abuse being suffered by our nation’s veterans at the hands of the VA. And it chose to do nothing about it. In his 1984 Memorial Day tribute to America’s soldiers, Ronald Reagan said, “A grateful nation opens her heart in gratitude, for their sacrifices, for their courage, and for their noble service.” Under Barack Obama, the VA closed its doors. And all of us owe Oliver Mitchell a debt gratitude for coming forward and blowing this whistle on this deadly corruption.
JW Investigation Raises Questions about Key Republican in Benghazi Oversight
In November of last year, Judicial Watch introduced its newest team member, the respected investigative journalist Micah Morrison. As a senior writer and, later, chief investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal editorial page from 1993 to 2002, Micah led the investigations of the Clinton administration. He also reported on union corruption, Indian casino gaming, and the Bank of Credit & Commerce International (BCCI). He is co-editor, with Journal Editor Robert L. Bartley, of the six volume series, Whitewater: A Wall Street Journal Briefing. The newspaper nominated him four times for the Pulitzer Prize.
At the time Micah joined us I said that he would “work closely with our team of investigators and lawyers to get more of the truth of what our government is up to.” In the revealing, blockbuster article below, which appeared in the June 17 edition of The Daily Caller, Micah more than proved his mettle in ferreting out the truth where others failed to go.
With the curtain soon to go up on select committee hearings on Benghazi, a key question remains unanswered: what on earth were we doing there? What policies were being pursued in that violent outpost of the Libyan revolution?
The White House would rather not say. In an email obtained by Judicial Watch and released in April, senior White House communications advisor Ben Rhodes instructed administration media spinners in the aftermath of the attack to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” For all the sound and fury over hearings, Congress also has not shown much interest in precisely what Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the State Department and the CIA were doing in Benghazi.
Last month, Daily Beast national security correspondent Eli Lake reported that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers had “warned his colleagues about the upcoming select committee to investigate Benghazi.” In interviews Rogers “downplayed” the testimony CIA contractors gave in closed session, Lake noted, and has said he did not believe the CIA had stonewalled his committee. Lake reported that “the chairmen of the House Intelligence, Armed Services, and Government Reform committees — Reps. Rogers, Buck McKeon, and Darrell Issa, respectively — all opposed the formation of a select committee on Benghazi.”
Sussing out the White House’s response to Benghazi is a critical step in clearing the shadows from the incident, but there are other players in the drama as well, including Rep. Rogers, and possibly also including a private military contracting firm that until recently was run by his wife, Kristi Rogers. Mike and Kristi Rogers are quintessential Washington insiders. A seven-term Republican from Michigan, Mike Rogers climbed the political ladder to become chairman of the Intelligence Committee in January 2011. Kristi Rogers, after years of government service in mid-level administrative positions, moved to the private sector, joining the British-based security contractor Aegis Defense Services to help open its U.S. subsidiary. The newsletter Intelligence Online noted that thanks to Ms. Rogers’ efforts, “Aegis won several major contracts with the U.S. administration.”
A spokesperson for the House Intelligence Committee noted that “strictly observed and enforced” policies required “that there should be no interaction with Mrs. Rogers on any matter relating to the official business of the House” and “no interaction between the Committee and any representative of Aegis.” There is no evidence of wrong-doing by Rep. Rogers or Aegis. Indeed, the outlines of the story are more suggestive of “right-doing,” Washington-style: an insider’s game of covert operations and corporate profits played out in the gray areas of law and policy.
No issue has dominated Rep. Roger’s time as committee chairman more than Libya. Protests against Muammar Gadhafi’s regime began in February 2011. In March, NATO air strikes commenced and the U.S. named Christopher Stevens as special envoy to the Benghazi-based Libyan opposition. By August, the end of the Gadhafi regime was in sight. The Associated Press reported that the CIA and State Department were “working closely” on tracking down the dictator’s vast arms stockpiles, including chemical weapons, yellowcake uranium, and some 20,000 shoulder-fired missiles known as MANPADS. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told the AP that Mr. Stevens was working with officials in Benghazi on how to track down the weapons.
By early October 2011, concern over missing MANPADS was growing. Prized by insurgent forces and terrorists, MANPADS (the acronym stands for “Man-Portable Air Defense Systems”) are capable of shooting down attack aircraft — or a civilian plane. “We have reports that they may in fact have crossed borders,” Mr. Rogers told USA Today, criticizing the Obama administration for a lack of urgency. “I have some concerns we may be a little bit late.” By the end of the month, Gadhafi was dead. Less than a year later, Mr. Stevens — by then Ambassador Stevens — would be dead too, killed with three other Americans in an attack on the Benghazi stations of the State Department and CIA. Benghazi became a full-blown crisis. Chairman Rogers emerged as one of the Obama administration’s sharpest critics, hammering it for a lack of transparency.
Libya also was an area of activity for Aegis, Ms. Rogers’ company. As Rep. Rogers assumed control of the Intelligence Committee, an Aegis subsidiary, Aegis Advisory, began setting up shop in Libya. “Aegis has been operating in Libya since February 2011,” noted an Aegis Advisory intelligence report aimed at corporate clients. The report, marked “Confidential,” notes the company’s ability to provide “proprietary information [and] expert knowledge from our country team based in Tripoli.” Security was part of the Aegis package, too. “Aegis has extensive links in Libya which can be leveraged quickly to ensure safe passage,” the report noted. In 2012, Al Jazeera reported that Aegis was hunting bigger game in the country, “seeking a $5 billion contract to guard Libya’s vast and porous borders.” Aegis declined to respond to Judicial Watch’s questions about Libyan border security contracts.
Ms. Rogers’ rise at Aegis was swift. A former press aide to Ambassador Paul Bremer in Iraq and an assistant commissioner for public affairs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, she was named executive vice president when the U.S. branch opened in 2006. She was promoted to president in 2008 and added the position of CEO in 2009. In 2011, Ms. Rogers was named vice chairman of the company’s board of directors. In December 2012, she left Aegis and joined the law firm Manatt as a managing director for federal government affairs.
Aegis took a particular interest in events in Benghazi. One recipient of Aegis Advisory’s Libya briefings was Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, the global intelligence and consulting firm. According to Stratfor documents obtained by Wikileaks, Aegis’s Libya briefings were circulated to Stratfor’s confidential “alpha list.” The alpha list “is a repository for most of the intelligence that comes in,” a Stratfor analyst wrote in an email released by Wikileaks. “The first rule of the alpha list is that you don’t talk about the alpha list.”
In July 2011, in a report circulated to the alpha list, a senior Aegis official reported on a trip to Benghazi. “Despite reports of pockets of jihadist elements the presence of Islamic extremism has so far been low-key,” the official noted. But plenty of other forces were at work. “Qatar and the UAE [United Arab Emirates] have established a strong presence on the ground, providing tactical assistance at all levels, weapons, and recognition,” the official said, adding that one possible “motivation” for the Qatari presence was “U.S. support to act as its proxy.”
Ms. Rogers was a strong advocate for Aegis. In 2010 testimony before the congressionally chartered Commission on Wartime Contracting, she noted that “contractors are a necessary reality of the United States’ missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and perhaps similar, future missions.” Aegis, she said, was a “threat driven and intelligence led” company with “seasoned professionals” and “exceptional performance.” She added that the firm “regularly meets with Members of Congress, their staff and other key decision makers.”
In 2007, Aegis won Pentagon renewal of a contract to run security services for reconstruction projects in Iraq, a deal “worth up to $475 million over two years,” the Washington Post reported. In 2011, it was awarded a $497 million State Department contract for embassy security in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to the Project on Government Oversight. Theories linking Aegis to the failed Blue Mountain Group guarding the State Department’s Benghazi mission have circulated on the Internet. Aegis issued a statement denying it. No “member of the Aegis Group has ever entered into a contract with any department of the U.S. government to perform work in Libya,” the company noted.
A definitive statement about Aegis in Libya, apparently, but not without wiggle room. The activities of the U.S. government, its allies, and private contractors in Libya remain cloaked in secrecy. Methods to sidestep Congressional oversight include handing off sensitive missions to friendly foreign governments or operating through shell companies. There’s no evidence that Aegis was involved in such misconduct, but Ms. Rogers did seem to have been focused on boosting Aegis’s capability for confidential operations. According to a biographical profile posted on the Manatt website and since removed, Ms. Rogers “obtained top-secret facility security clearance for Aegis, created the company’s board of directors and positioned it for future growth and expansion.” Among the new Aegis board members were two former senior CIA officials: Robert Reynolds, a leader in contracts and procurement for the CIA; and John Sano, a former deputy director of the CIA’s clandestine services.
On March 28, Mr. Rogers announced he was stepping down from his safe Congressional seat and committee chairmanship to become a talk radio host. Two weeks earlier, on March 14, Ms. Rogers quietly left Manatt, after a tenure of only thirteen months. Her departure was not announced and her association with the firm has been scrubbed from its website.
Ms. Rogers and Manatt did not respond to emailed questions and interview requests. Messrs. Reynolds and Sano, the Aegis board members, did not respond to interview requests. The State Department and CIA did not respond to questions about Aegis. A lawyer for Aegis declined to address questions about the company’s relations with the U.S. intelligence community and its work in Benghazi.
The select committee should take a close look at the CIA’s activities in Benghazi and the Aegis connection. Both Rep. Rogers’ committee and Ms. Rogers’ company were focused on the Libyan security and intelligence environment in the months surrounding the Benghazi attack. Both Rep. Rogers and Aegis pursued Libyan border security issues. And both Rep. Rogers and Ambassador Stevens were linked to efforts to secure Gadhafi’s arsenals, including MANPADS, a high-stakes venture that involved both the State Department and the CIA.
Internal Revenue Service is “Gaming Congress” Over “Lost” Emails
As I write this, the IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is testifying, to the gasps of the audience during House Ways and Means Committee hearing, that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) “destroyed” the hard drive of Lois Lerner (and, presumably, other top IRS officials) and that there was nothing he could do about it. Buried in a letter to the Senate last Friday (the day for corruption news dumps), the IRS disclosed that Lerner’s computer had likely been sent to a “hard drive cemetery.”
First, let’s put to rest any idea that we should take at face value the notion that the IRS has actually “lost” an untold number of Lois Lerner’s email records (and the records of other top IRS officials) for the critical period leading up to the 2012 presidential election – during which time, according to its own Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), it targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status. The truth is, even if Lois Lerner had set her PC on fire, blew it away with a MANPAD, and dropped it into the Bermuda Triangle, the IRS could still access her emails.
In the first place, by law, the IRS is supposed to have a finite, failsafe methodology in place for protecting any and all emails sent by its employees. And it is all set forth in writing:
Security of Electronic Records
1. IRS offices will implement and maintain an effective records security program that incorporates the following:
A. Ensures that only authorized personnel have access to electronic records.
B. Provides for backup and recovery of records to protect against information loss or corruption.
C. Ensures that appropriate agency personnel are trained to safeguard sensitive or classified electronic records.
D. Minimizes the risk of unauthorized alteration or erasure of electronic records.
E. Ensures that electronic records security is included in computer systems security plans prepared pursuant to the Computer Security Act of 1987.
And email records, if they are official government documents, are supposed to be printed out so as to be preserved under federal records law. And if there is any destruction of records, it is to be promptly reported.
To put it simply, as I pointed out in my NewsMax interview with J.D. Hayworth, the IRS is once again “gaming Congress.”
As a regular Weekly Update reader you know that at Judicial Watch we have already obtained and released some highly damaging emails from within the now thoroughly corrupted and discredited Obama IRS. So, one can only imagine how devastating the ones they are now hiding must be to Obama and his minions.
In April 2014, Judicial Watch released a batch of internal IRS documents that broke the news that Lerner directly communicated with the Department of Justice (DOJ) about whether it was possible to criminally prosecute certain tax-exempt entities. The documents were dragged out of the Obama administration thanks to our October 2013 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the IRS after the agency refused to follow the law and respond to four FOIA requests dating back to May 2013.
And in May 2014, Judicial Watch released a new batch of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) documentsrevealing that its handling of Tea Party applications was directed out of the agency’s headquarters in Washington, DC. The documents also showed extensive pressure on the IRS by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) to shut down conservative-leaning tax-exempt organizations. The IRS’ emails by Lois Lerner detail her misleading explanations to investigators about the targeting of Tea Party organizations. Those documents also came in response to our October 2013 FOIA lawsuit.
As best as I can tell, it was because of JW’s underlying FOIA litigation that, back in February, the IRS “discovered” that the emails had been “lost.” Did the Obama IRS inform us – or the court in our lawsuit – while were waiting for good-faith document releases? No. Did the IRS tell Congress? No. Did the Obama IRS tell other groups suing the IRS over its abuses? No. President Obama’s White House, which supposedly knew of this back in April, also sat on this convenient information. It is fair to assume that if the IRS had not been forced by JW to search for these emails in the first place, we would all still be in the dark about this destruction of evidence.
Some members of Congress are understandably up in arms. Today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), angrily told the IRS Commissioner Koskinen, “I don’t believe you!” Fox News reported:
“The IRS in charge of hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ information. And you’re now saying your technology system was so poor that years’ worth of emails are forever unrecoverable?” [House Ways and Means Chairman Dave] Camp charged. “How does that put anyone at ease? How far would the excuse ‘I lost it’ get with the IRS for an average American trying to file their yearly taxes who may have lost a few receipts.”
Congress will be angry but, thus far, has been ineffective in holding this Nixonian administration to account.
I can promise you that Judicial Watch plans to ask for a court hearing to examine why the IRS destroyed these records and then covered it up.
If a private entity had done something similar in a federal investigation, the FBI would have raided the entity’s premises and locked it down to search for and secure evidence. Does anyone think that Eric Holder’s Justice Department or the conflicted FBI is going to do this to the IRS?
We will do what we can in the courts to hold this Obama administration to account for this latest affront to the rule of law. And, if the past is any prologue, we will get key information long before Congress and the inept and liberal media do.
So, you can see how your support of Judicial Watch can have an extraordinary impact. My promise to you is that we will continue to uncover the truth of the Obama IRS assault upon the American people.
Barack Obama and the Khattala Capture Sleight of Hand
Move over Dai Vernon, make way for Barack Obama. Dai Vernon, as sleight of hand aficionados will tell you, was the past master of “Cups and Balls.” Much to the shock and awe of his audience, he would routinely make three balls mysteriously penetrate through the tops of downturned cups, only to reappear with one of them magically transformed into a fruit. Properly executed, the trick is a masterpiece of misdirection and distraction.
Barack Obama, for his part, has dispensed with cups and balls on tabletops. He prefers the grand stage of international intrigue. His sleight of and takes years to perfect, only to be executed at the propitious time of his own choosing. And in his latest incarnation, his fruit of choice is Benghazi terrorist Ahmed Abu Khattala.
Until just days ago, the nattily attired and openly affable Khattala was an esteemed bon vivant amongst the Libyan elite. And, ironically, Khattala may, at least in part, have Judicial Watch to blame for his unexpected apprehension.
Make no mistake about it, Ahmed Abu Khattala was not a man on the run, as Obama has tried to depict him. He was a man on the make. On any given day, for the past two years, he could be found dining in style at the finest of Benghazi restaurants. He could be seen lounging at his leisure on the poolside patio of a luxury hotel. Or, perhaps, serving tea and crumpets to friends and family in the well-appointed living room of his cozy Benghazi home.
Here is how Senior Media Reporter Michael Calderone recently described Khattala’s enviable lifestyle in the Huffington Post:
On Oct. 18, 2012, New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick “spent two leisurely hours” with Khattala “at a crowded luxury hotel, sipping a strawberry frappe on a patio and scoffing at the threats coming from the American and Libyan governments.”
Reuters caught up with Khattala the same day and similarly reported that he didn’t appear overly concerned. “Sitting with a friend in the restaurant of a Benghazi hotel, the 41-year-old, sporting a red felt hat and a full salt-and-pepper beard, laughed gently,” wrote Hadeel Al Shalchi and Ghaith Shennib.
And that’s not the last time Khattala popped up in the western media. In August, CNN’s Arwa Damon spent two hours with him at a well-known hotel coffee shop in Benghazi. When asked on-air about locating Khattala, Damon said he’s “not a man who is in hiding.”
Khattala recently surfaced again in the western media, meeting with a Times of London reporter in late October.
Given his status as a fugitive and the gravity of his alleged crime — involvement in the killing of the US ambassador — it might be expected Ahmed Abu Khattala would go to ground in a safe house.
Yet, as Abu Khattala, 42, pours a cup of green tea and offers me a tray of biscuits, he gazes thoughtfully from the sofa in his home in a street barely 10 minutes’ drive from the centre of Benghazi.
So, why, after all of this, did Barack Obama suddenly decide it was time to apprehend the wining and dining “video terrorist?” In a word: “misdirection.” In three words: “Cups and Balls.” In short, when you are plagued by scandals, find a way to divert attention.
As you will recall, Judicial Watch, with your support, played no small part in exposing the scandals that forced Obama to play his sleight of hand. I’ve told you about the IRS scandal above and how it getting worse and worse for the Obama administration.
But, of course, the biggest scandal of all that Judicial Watch exposed – and the one that probably forced Obama to interrupt Khattala’s social calendar – was our release in mid-April of 41 new Benghazi-related State Department documents. They included an explosive email showing how then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes and other Obama administration public relations officials orchestrated a campaign to portray the Benghazi consulate terrorist attack as being “rooted in an Internet video.” Fox News channel’s Charles Krauthammer described it as “the smoking document.” And on the heels of its release, House Speaker John Boehner finally appointed a Special House Select Committee to investigate Benghazi.
President Obama’s credibility had been shredded by our Benghazi revelations (and Hillary Clinton’s book tour did not help the administration).
So while we give the Lord thanks for both the heroics and safety of the members of our military who captured this bad guy, skeptical Americans will ask: Why did President Obama wait so long to unleash the best and most powerful military force on the planet to get this terrorist?
President Obama’s Benghazi lies are an albatross on American power.
Harry Truman bluntly said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Obama has instead decided to try to shift everyone’s attention to another room, where the Balls and Cups are all laid out on the table in hopes of misdirecting the audience’s attention. At JW, we intend to keep the public focused on the facts about Obama’s egregious lies and cover-ups of the Benghazi massacre. In the meantime, let’s toast those who put their lives on the line for the successful raid.
Until next week…