Matthew Blake reports from Capitol Hill:
In his 1961 inaugural address, John F. Kennedy gave a vision of American service that would lead to establishment of the Peace Corps, famously declaring, "My fellow Americans: ask not what your country do for you; ask what you can for your country."
Karl Rove has turned this vision on its head. In March 2003 the White House asked Peace Corp officers, in essence, "How many of you are willing to be briefed on GOP Congressional and Gubernatorial races? Are you prepared to sit through a power point presentation on key media markets for the Republican 2008 presidential nominee?"
Since a Washington Post report yesterday that the White House gave political briefings to US ambassadors and Peace Corps officials, two Senate hearings have tried to ascertain what in the world the White House, much less the volunteer-driven Peace Corps and foreign assistance agencies, could possibly gain from such meetings.
Today, Connecticut Senator, Democratic Presidential candidate and Peace Corps alum (Dominican Republic ’66-68) Chris Dodd scrutinized Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter for allowing a meeting between White House political strategists and around 15 Peace Corps officials. "I’m troubled by it," Dodd said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today. "The good reputation the Peace Corps has built over 40 years has been soiled."
Tschetter pleaded ignorance to a series of questions Dodd asked about who was at the meetings and continually responded that the sessions were voluntarily. He did admit, however, that the meeting took place at Peace Corps headquarters, which meant it likely violated the Hatch Act, a federal law barring executive branch employees from participating in partisan politics on the job.
Republican Senator Bob Corker was similarly baffled. He asked Tschetter to make certain that the "Peace Corps is still the gold standard in non-partisanship." Tschetter promised he would "ask around" about who attended the political briefings.
At a separate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday, United States Agency of International Development acting administrator Henrietta Holsman Fore skated around questions anout why her aides met with White House Political Director Scott Jennings before and after the midterm elections. "It is a corruption of process and waste of time to have 20-30 employees of USAID briefed on the electoral landscape," New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez told Fore. "I’m not quite sure how it helps development abroad to know the key battleground states."
Prior to these newest findings by the Foreign Relation Committee, the White House admitted to giving about 15 federal agencies "political landscape" briefings from Rove’s office. Congress has particularly focused its investigation upon General Services Administration Chairwoman Lurita Alexis Doan, who told her underlings to "help our candidates" win the next election.
That type of service was not exactly what President Kennedy had in mind.