Issa was referring to a cache of emails obtained earlier this month by the watchdog group Judicial Watch through the Freedom of Information Act.
He expressed anger that the emails were not turned over to his committee first and said the messages demonstrated the agency’s lack of impartiality. He further alleged that some of them contradicted claims NLRB staffers made as part of his committee’s probe.
NLRB spokeswoman Nancy Cleland said the agency had not withheld the emails. She said that the committee’s requests and the FOIA requests that produced the emails were handled separately by different people and that caused confusion.
“Because the documents were being produced on separate tracks, the Committee had not yet received some materials at the time they were provided to Judicial Watch. It is the Agency’s intent to provide those materials as part of its next, and fourth, delivery of documents later this week,” Cleland said in a statement to IBD, adding that in the future the committee requests will be given priority over FOIA requests.
The 505 pages of emails do not contain especially startling revelations. For the most part, the NLRB staffers appear to be very circumspect in their messages to each other. There are several redacted sections, most citing FOIA exceptions for privacy and attorney work product.
Nevertheless in several cases NLRB staffers do offer some personal commentary on the Boeing case and the effect is not unlike listening in at the watercooler. Those messages show the staff to be enthused at the prospect of bringing the aerospace giant to heel and disdainful of their critics on the case.
At the time of the Boeing case, its chairwoman was Wilma Liebman, a former Teamsters lawyer. Obama had also appointed former Service Employees International Union lawyer Craig Becker to the five-member board. Only one board member was a Republican.“The unprecedented NLRB decision to attack Boeing seemed abusive on its face and cried out for further investigation. And we suspected it was done at the behest of union interests and not the public interest. The pro-union email traffic we uncovered confirm this,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, in an email to IBD.
NLRB attorney, John Mantz, forwarded Willen a link to a Wall Street Journal op-ed by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. The GOP governor was criticizing Obama and his “union-beholden appointees at the National Labor Relations Board” for launching “a direct assault on the 22 right-to-work states across America.”“Deb, have you seen this?” Mantz wrote. Willen didn’t apparently respond, but did forward the link to another attorney, Jayme Sophir, who gave a one-word response: “Ugh.”
In another exchange, Cleland made a point of a forwarding to several colleagues a May article in liberal The New Republic applauding the NLRB’s Boeing complaint.
The article was titled: “Labor Intensive: The most radical thing the Obama administration has done.” It argued that the Boeing case was “a small but definite step towards restoring an earlier America — one where politics wasn’t dominated by the Chamber of Commerce or demagogues like (South Carolina Republican Senator) Jim DeMint and workers had rights that mattered.”
Cleland forwarded the article on May 4 to, among others, Lafe Solomon, the one who formally issued the Boeing complaint, and Richard Ahearn, NLRB’s northwestern regional director, where the case originated.
“You might enjoy this,” Cleland said in the email. “Yup, she’s right,” responded Szapiro. “Great story — is Nancy or Barry responsible,” responded Willen, indicating she thought one may have fed the story to the magazine.
The following day, May 5, the International Association of Machinists, the union which had made the original complaint, issued its press release defending the NLRB action. The release was forwarded to NLRB staffers by Ahearn.
“Hooray for the red, white and blue,” responded Barry Kearney, NLRB’s associate general counsel and chief FOIA officer. “And now, finally, the IAM …. (don’t look at yesterday’s WSJ; you’ll puke)” responded Szapiro.
She was apparently referring to this Wall Street Journal editorial regarding GOP senators’ efforts to rein in the NLRB in the wake of the Boeing complaint.
“IAM release is really good. Hope your boss Solomon and Board itself hold strong … .” someone responded to Szapiro. The name of the email sender is redacted, the document citing the FOIA’s privacy exemption. The wording would suggest it came from somebody outside the NLRB.
Issa claimed that the NLRB withheld the emails from his committee even after Judicial Watch made them public. “This is very troubling and creates the appearance that you discovered these emails, realized they were damaging to the NLRB, and intentionally withheld them from the committee,” he said in his letter to Solomon.
He further alleged that the emails showed that NLRB members “made misrepresentations to the committee,” citing earlier claims by staffers that there were no communications between Solomon’s office and the rest of the NLRB relating to the Boeing matter. Issa notes that on May 5 both Solomon and then-NLRB chairwoman Wilma Liebman were included in the email chain that passed around the TNR article. An April 20 release showed Solomon forwarding an email with the IAM press release to Liebman.
“This raises questions about the content of other documents you have failed to produce to the committee and is especially alarming considering it can be a federal crime to obstruct a congressional investigation,” Issa wrote. He also alleged the emails showed that NLRB staffers have tried to “slow walk” providing documents to his committee.
Issa concludes by demanding that six NLRB staffers — including Cleland, Kearney and Ahearn — submit to interviews by the committee by November.