OCTOBER 07, 2016
Three years ago we reported on videos produced by the General Services Administration (GSA) that show senior GSA officials and staff participating in costumed playacting and parodies.
Here’s a flavor: The Rocky Jog – With the Rocky movie theme blaring in the background, senior GSA officials lead employees on an extended jog through the corridors of the GSA’s New York office and the streets of Manhattan. The jog is initiated by Ben Kochanski, deputy regional commissioner, GSA Public Buildings Service, whose 2012 salary was $141,066. Kochanski is then joined by Joanna Rosato, regional commissioner of GSA Public Buildings Service, whose 2012 salary was $164,500. Many additional GSA employees then join these two senior officials.
Remember: The GSA touts itself as an “innovation engine” that helps the government cut costs.
It now appears that the GSA didn’t like our meddling in their fun.
The Washington Times recently highlighted a report by the GSA’s Inspector General concerning an attempt by the GSA to strip away our status as a member of the media and to force us to pay exorbitant fees for records:
The GSA botched several high-profile open records requests, delaying them for months while political appointees got involved, Inspector General Carol F. Ochoa said. The findings were released while the administration was facing charges of slow-walking open records requests for Hillary Clinton’s emails, as well as other requests.
In the case of Judicial Watch, the order to strip it of media status came from political operatives with long ties to Democratic causes — and even from the White House.
The inspector general said the decision came at the behest of Gregory Mecher, a former Democratic campaign fundraiser who at the time was liaison to the White House. He is married to Jen Psaki, a longtime spokeswoman with the Obama administration and its election campaigns.
Ms. Ochoa said stripping Judicial Watch of media status violated several agency policies and things got worse when the GSA denied an appeal by the group.
The IG report was finalized last year, but only released last week! It was all politically motivated. Surprised?
Making matters even worse, it appears that political revenge was behind the GSA/Obama White House attack on Judicial Watch.
We obtained those videos three years ago thanks to a June 15, 2012, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking videos produced by GSA’s Northeast Region (known as Region 2) from 2011 through June 2012. Because the agency failed to timely respond to our FOIA request, we filed a lawsuit on May 23, 2013 (Judicial Watch v. U.S. General Services Administration (No. 1:13-cv-00755)).
And we won. The court even forced the GSA to reimburse us for expenses.
As I told the Washington Times, the GSA’s response is outrageous, but not surprising. Welcome to our world. This is what we put up with all the time from the agencies. And we have to ask, why are White House liaisons involved in our FOIA request? Your Judicial Watch apparently is on the Obama administration’s enemies list.
The OIG report notes it took nearly a year for the GSA to provide the videos to us despite the average FOIA response time being about 60 days. On top of that, GSA political operatives snooped around our Internet web site and then took away our media status even though, as it says in the report, “GSA had granted Judicial Watch press status in the past, most recently for a FOIA request made less than two weeks before …”
Judicial Watch was alerted to the existence of these videos by its client Linda Shenwick, a whistleblower in GSA who objected to frivolous expenditures in the GSA’s Region 2, the office which produced the videos. Unbelievably GSA had a policy of encouraging and rewarding employees who produced and performed in the controversial videos. In further retaliation, Ms. Shenwick has since been demoted and effectively removed from her duties.
You can see how the Obama administration did not let the rule of law get in the way of abusing its office to target whistleblowers and Judicial Watch. And you can also see the transparent lawlessness in the Clinton era State Department is but one example of the Obama administration’s war against the American people’s right to know.
Today we released 128 pages of documents we obtained from the mayor of Rutland, Vermont, showing a concerted effort by the mayor and private organizations to conceal from the public their plans to resettle 100 Syrian refugees in the small southern Vermont town.
The documents include an April 14, 2016, email from Amila Merdzanovic, executive director of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, to Mayor Christopher Louras, in which she wrote:
I want to share with you the concern my HQ has about holding a public forum. If we open it up to anybody and everybody, all sorts of people will come out of woodwork. Anti-immigrant, anti-anything. They suggest that the forum be invite only but make it as wide as possible. Work with faith leaders, United Way, etc… Perhaps, we could go back to the Congregational Church and continue the conversation there.
The mayor and resettlement organizations shrouded the plan in such secrecy that not even the town’s aldermen were informed of what was taking place behind closed doors. The aldermen eventually wrote to the U.S. Department of State protesting the plan and opened an investigation into the mayor’s actions. The State Department has not yet ruled on whether it will resettle refugees in Rutland despite the aldermen’s protest.
Handwritten notes state that the issue was, “Not what can ‘we’ do for ‘them,’ but what the diversity, cultural richness do for the community.” The documents contain detailed discussions of what Rutland will need to provide for the refugees – including housing, jobs, medical care, and places for worship.
Merdzanovic later told the Boston Globe that the hidden talks were “the right thing to do — to move slowly, keep it to a small circle of people, and then expand.”
On April 10, 2016, she wrote to the director of the State Refugee Office about her coordination with the mayor to keep the resettlement program secret:
He did share with me that the Governor’s office called him after getting a frantic call from DOL [Vermont Department of Labor] inquiring about the plan to resettle ‘100 Syrians in the next month’ in Rutland. Again, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of not sharing the information even if it is confidentially. Please respect our process, you will have plenty of opportunity to share and take action once we have met with the stakeholders. At that point we can and will share it widely. It will not serve any one of us well if the community in Rutland learned about it through the grapevine and not directly from us. The above example shows that what people hear and how they interpret it is two different things.
A May 3 document shows Hal Cohen, secretary of the agency for human services, introduces a meeting: “Vermont gains from diversity – new ideas, delicious food (laughs) …” A set of April talking points by the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants stated: “Refugees can bring global perspectives and expertise … direct knowledge about history and world events (unfiltered by media) … synergize energy & momentum with youth.”
The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a nonprofit based in Virginia, is the parent organization of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program working with the mayor’s office. According to its financial statements the Committee received $46,560,462 of its $50,858,706 (or 91.45%) for fiscal year 2015 from “government grants.”
Local opponents of the refugee plans wanted a public vote on the proposal and transparency on the refugee settlement plan.
In December 2015 Judicial Watch sued the U.S. State Department to obtain documents about the Obama administration’s plan to resettle Syrian refugees across the country. Judicial Watch is investigating the Obama administration’s Refugee and Resettlement program, which plans to bring an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States in 2016, and even more in 2017.
Obama is pressing ahead with his plan even though 129 people were killed and 350 were wounded by Syrian-trained terrorists in Paris. The Obama administration is working in conjunction with The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to settle these individuals all across the U.S. The federal government contracts with non-profits and other entities to settle and provide financial payments to refugees.
Americans should be concerned that the Obama administration is funneling at least $46 million in tax dollars to a shady operation that encourages elected officials to cover up Obama’s Syrian refugee scheme. We are now going through thousands more documents on Obama’s dangerous Syrian refugee gamble, so expect more news here soon.