It is now clear that GSA Administrator Lurita Doan, about whom I have blogged several times previously, will not surrender her good name without a fight. Democratic hit-man Rep. Henry Waxman and the Washington Post news pages have teamed up with the GSA Inspector General and controversial U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch to trash Ms. Doan on a number of fronts, several of which have been shown to be unfair attacks already. The big one at issue now is the charge that Ms. Doan violated the Hatch Act by supposedly asking, at a White House-led, voluntary, brown-bag lunch meeting for administration political appointees in her agency, “how we can help our candidates.” In a preliminary report on his investigation that was unfairly (and seemingly maliciously) leaked (Doan apparently believes the leak was by Bloch and/or his designees) to four news organizations either simultaneously or even BEFORE the preliminary report was given to Doan for her response, Bloch concludes that Doan did indeed violate the Hatch Act. But Doan will reply later today or tomorrow in a way that forcefully rebuts that preliminary conclusion.
More on this later today, but for now, consider these elements of the controversy. First, even if Doan DID say such a thing (she says she does not remember doing so and that she does not believe she did), WHAT WAS THE SIN? There is no charge that she actually directed the GSA to award contracts based on electoral considerations — and indeed, as this meeting took place in January of this year, a full 22 months before the next federal elections, there is little possibility that any candidates could even have been identified yet, much less arranged to be helped. If this was a meeting of political appointees and Ms. Doan asked the White House person a political question unrelated to any official action on her part, WHAT IS THE HARM? There is no evidence that she pressured any of the GSA employees to take part in ANY political activity.
Second, Ms. Doan has long claimed that she was not even paying much attention at the meeting because she was spending the time handling a backlog of e-mails on her Blackberry. The Post reported that investigators concluded that this wasn’t true, because her Blackberry records do not show heavy incoming or outgoing traffic. She now notes, though, that those same records show a backlog of more than 250 e-mails in her inbox at the time, caused in part by a documented problem with the GSA’s email system that the GSA technicians had been working on. Futhermore, she says that she provided the Special Counsel GSA documentation that proves that an e-mail with an attachment was sent by her during the meeting. Moreover, it was just before that meeting that Waxman’s fishing expedition (on an earlier matter) had produced a big document request from Doan, and two e-mails from her personal attorney relating to just that topic had arrived just before the meeting in question. Wouldn’t YOU, Dear Reader, have been distracted at the meeting if you had just received such e-mails?
As I said, I’ll have more on this later. Doan’s official response has not yet been completed. But while the Post articles on Doan certainly SEEM to provide compelling evidence that she committed various acts of fairly minor wrongdoing, Doan promises that those articles are misleading and that she will show that she has nothing to be ashamed of.
Considering that a couple of the earlier charges against her were demonstrably bogus, Ms. Doan deserves the benefit of the doubt until and unless her responses to the allegations have themselves been shown to be untenable. For now, fair-minded people ought to withhold judgment — and support Ms. Doan against the underhanded procedural (leaks, etc.) tactics being used against her.