WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) participated in a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday to consider the nominations of Christi Grimm to be Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Neil MacBride to be General Counsel for the Department of the Treasury. During his questioning Lankford defended Americans’ rights to conscience protections and rights to have private information be kept private by the government.
Lankford’s questions to Ms. Grimm, who, if confirmed, would be responsible for investigating allegations of wrongdoing at HHS, were focused on HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra’s questionable application of the law in failing to protect the conscience rights of Americans in Texas and California despite his previous assertions that he would.
Last month, Lankford called out Becerra for allowing California to violate federal law and the conscience rights of Californians, who do not want to pay for abortions. Additionally, Lankford led a bicameral group of Senators and Congressmen in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Becerra demanding answers on why the Department of Justice (DOJ) dropped a lawsuit against the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC), which has received federal funds from HHS since 1998, for forcing a nurse to assist with an abortion procedure against the nurse’s registered conscience objections and in clear violation of long-standing federal law.
Lankford’s questions to Mr. MacBride, who hopes to serve as the lead attorney for the Department of the Treasury, were pointedly asking for his knowledge about potential felonies committed by the IRS, which is within the Treasury, and potential felonies committed by the ProPublica organization after they have leaked several “wealthy” Americans’ tax records. Both providing tax records and publishing them are felonies.
Lankford continues to fight to protect Oklahomans against the Democrats’ campaign to monitor Americans’ bank accounts, place taxpayer finances in a surveillance dragnet, and provide massive, additional mandatory funding to IRS for an army of IRS agents.
When Lankford asked about the enforcement of conscience protections under Secretary Becerra, the potential Inspector General was unable to address the issue or was unfamiliar with all of them:
Lankford: Ms. Grimm, HHS coordinated with the Department of Justice to dismiss a lawsuit against the University of Vermont Medical Center for knowingly, willfully, and repeatedly violating the Church Amendment, which is a federal conscience law. And that was a case that was already going through the process. We’re trying to be able to figure out why that case suddenly got dropped. It was interesting on the Church Amendment side of it that now HHS has determined they’re going to enforce the Church Amendment in Texas on abortion providers there but have dropped it in Vermont where a nurse historically given a conscience protection there was suddenly taken away. Are you aware of that situation with the unequal application of the Church Amendments and of why HHS would drop that case suddenly?
Lankford: Xavier Becerra also mentioned during his confirmation hearings that he would recuse himself from any case that he was also involved in as the Attorney General in California. It wasn’t long after he came to HHS that suddenly the cases dealing with California and some of the conscience protection issues there under the Weldon Amendment were suddenly dropped. Do you know of any situation there suddenly where California cases suddenly got dropped from HHS shortly after the Secretary became confirmed?
Lankford; Of late, there is a division within HHS called the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. I’m sure you’re aware of that. We’re hearing that HHS is looking to dissolve that division. Do you know the status of that Division, whether it’s being dissolved or what the structural changes are being proposed for the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division?
Lankford put a Treasury nominee on notice about major violations of privacy and leaks of personal information at the IRS:
Lankford: Over the last several months, we’ve all seen the articles from ProPublica organization, obviously some leaks that are coming out of the IRS that are attributed to be filings from quote-unquote ‘wealthy’ Americans. There’s been a lot of questions on where that information came from. There is also a legal issue that’s there as well. It’s a felony to be able to release private tax records. It’s also a felony to be able to publish known tax records. ProPublica has announced that they’re very aware that these are tax records and they’re publishing them anyway for the public good, which is clearly a felony to be able to do that. And it’s also an issue as well if someone is to release these documents as well. Are you tracking that? Is that a course of investigation that you would be engaged in? What’s your consideration on that?
MacBride: Thank you, Senator Lankford. So, I’m aware generally of the issue that you’ve raised from press reports. I’m not yet in the Treasury building yet. But agree with you that the unauthorized release of confidential or proprietary government information is unlawful. My understanding, mainly from press reports, is that there are multiple investigations ongoing with the Inspector General’s office at Treasury, I believe at the US Attorney’s office in the District of Columbia. If I’m so fortunate to be confirmed, I would want to get read-in on this issue and understand what happened and how to make sure that it is brought to a swift conclusion and doesn’t happen again.