House Coronavirus Panel Tires of HHS Runaround, Subpoenas Top Legislative Executive

Senior Health and Human Services legislative liaison executive must appear to answer questions on Nov. 16 or face possible further congressional action.
House Coronavirus Panel Tires of HHS Runaround, Subpoenas Top Legislative Executive
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) in Washington on Aug. 12, 2022. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Mark Tapscott

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, has issued a subpoena to force a senior Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official to appear for a deposition, citing “months of intentional stonewalling.”

Joining Mr. Wenstrup in the action are Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chair of the Committee on Oversight and Accountability; Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce; Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations; and Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

The subpoena is part of a continuing joint investigation initiated by House Republicans following the 2022 midterm congressional elections.
In a statement announcing the subpoena to HHS Assistant Secretary of Legislation Melanie Egorin, the subcommittee’s majority media office described a parade of excuses, delays, postponements, and evasions beginning in February 2023, when the panel began requesting a host of documents and interviews with department officials regarding their responses to the pandemic that has killed more than 1 million Americans since January 2020.

“[Investigators] engaged with HHS in an attempt to obtain documents and communications and secure testimony pertinent to their investigations,” the panel stated. “During this period, the committees offered numerous reasonable accommodations and acted in good faith to facilitate the timely and fulsome production of documents.

“Despite these efforts, HHS deliberately frustrated legitimate Congressional oversight by redacting documents unnecessarily, ignoring clear production deadlines, and slow-walking easily, and sometimes even publicly attainable, productions.”

“Our accommodations have not been met with reciprocal actions from the department, and its efforts to produce documents are deficient,“ the statement reads. ”For example, the department has: (1) produced documents with more substantial redactions than those in documents that are publicly available, (2) redacted the names of non-governmental employees and foreign nationals without legitimate reasons, (3) missed numerous production deadlines, often without explanation, (4) withheld requested documents, again often without explanation, and, as the Congress has gone on, (5) made productions at a slower and slower cadence.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) during a media briefing in Washington on March 5, 2014. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) during a media briefing in Washington on March 5, 2014. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Meetings Also Delayed

The statement further described how previous efforts of investigators to meet with Ms. Egorin were repeatedly frustrated.

“HHS misled the committees regarding their interview request for Assistant Secretary Egorin. Less than 24 hours before Dr. Egorin’s scheduled transcribed interview, HHS informed the committees that the Assistant Secretary tested positive for COVID-19,” the statement reads.

“The committees worked diligently with HHS to reschedule Dr. Egorin’s interview, under the pretense that the Assistant Secretary was willing to cooperate. Again, less than 24 hours prior to Dr. Egorin’s scheduled interview, HHS delayed the Assistant Secretary’s testimony with the promise of a substantive, bipartisan meeting to discuss all HHS productions requested by the committees.”

Even when the requested meeting finally was convened, according to the statement, “HHS failed to adequately prepare, made outrageous rationalizations regarding their stonewalling, and refused to answer numerous questions raised by both majority and minority staff.”

“The refusal to cooperate with legitimate congressional oversight and the subsequent obstruction of Assistant Secretary Egorin’s testimony warrants the resulting subpoena,” the statement reads.

In a 15-page cover letter accompanying the subpoena, the chairs added that “at the department’s insistence, the meeting ended before the committees could ask all their questions.”

“It is now clear that the department, under the Biden Administration, has made a deliberate decision to create a system that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to respond to Congressional oversight requests,” the letter reads.

“The only conceivable explanation for why the department would deliberately cripple its ability to respond to oversight requests is that its political leadership wants to obstruct Congress. The department’s continued assertions that it is working in ‘good faith’ with Congress are outrageous when compared to how it actually responds to oversight requests.”

The subpoena directs Ms. Egorin to appear for an on-the-record interview on Nov. 16.

A spokesperson for HHS didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative editor and reporter who covers Congress, national politics, and policy for The Epoch Times. Mark was admitted to the National Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Hall of Fame in 2006 and he was named Journalist of the Year by CPAC in 2008. He was a consulting editor on the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Other Than Honorable” in 2014.