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Public Statements

Secretary Lew

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Garrett) for 5 minutes.

Mr. GARRETT. Mr. Speaker, prominently featured on the White House Web site, President Obama issued the following memorandum to all heads of executive departments and agencies:

My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.

Unfortunately, despite once serving as the White House Chief of Staff, Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew apparently never got that memo.

On June 7, shortly after the news broke that the Internal Revenue Service engaged in the reprehensible practice of targeting conservative-leaning political groups, I sent a letter to Secretary Lew with a handful of questions relating to his time served as White House chief of staff. Specifically I asked:

First, when was the first time Secretary Lew, as chief of staff, became aware of the IRS's targeting of tax-exempt groups, including rumors or media reports of targeting, independent of his knowledge of the IG's investigation?

Second, given that IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman made numerous trips to the White House between October 2009 and December 2012, I asked Secretary Lew, again as chief of staff, if he attended any meetings with Shulman.

Next I asked if anything was discussed relating to the IRS investigation concerning conservative-leaning organizations and their tax-exempt status.

Finally, I asked if Secretary Lew, as chief of staff, was involved in any or had any knowledge of rumors of conservative groups that were being targeted or of media reports highlighting the IG investigation relating to the targeting or any IRS personnel involved in potentially inappropriate targeting of conservative groups.

Well, my letters went unanswered week after week after week. So I sent numerous emails and made phone calls to the Treasury Department, requesting a reply to my letter. Finally, finally a letter came. Unfortunately, rather than simply answering my questions and putting to bed any appearance of impropriety, Lew chose to not answer any of my direct questions.

Now 3 1/2 months have passed since I asked those very simple and direct questions. I still cannot get an answer from him. So I'm here today to encourage you to join me in the fight to get answers from Secretary Lew.

You see, the President's memo was very clear--his government is to be the most transparent in the history of this great Nation. Well, then, we have to bring Secretary Lew up to speed on that memo.

Jack Lew served as chief of staff to the President while some of the most egregious, reprehensible behavior ever displayed by the IRS took place. The American people have the right to know what he knows about the IRS scandal, when he knew it, and what involvement he had, as chief of staff, with personnel at the IRS.

It is essential to the functioning of a representative government that the citizens--the voters who are represented--have confidence in the integrity of the system. If they don't, the government won't be trusted. Government must earn that trust. That means that the men and women who manage the day-to-day affairs, such as him, must be trustworthy people. And to maintain that confidence, the public--the men and the women must avoid even the appearance of impropriety. It is that principle that judges adhere to when they recuse themselves from cases where it may appear that they would have an interest in the outcome.

The public must be assured that the outcomes generated by the men and women in Washington are not influenced by the conflicting interests. Otherwise, the system--whether it's corrupt or not--will have the taint of corruption; and that's just as bad.

The President was right to emphasize transparency, and it is essential to the proper functioning of a representative government. It's up to the citizens and their representatives to demand that transparency and the propriety that it maintains.

So again, I ask my colleagues and you, the American public, to join me in demanding the openness that President Obama promised. And to Secretary Lew, I am still waiting for those answers.


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