Written by Tom Fitton
Videos Obtained by Judicial Watch Reveal Costumed Parodies, Playacting at GSA
From the latest edition of "federal officials gone wild"...
Judicial Watch recently obtained more than a half-dozen newly uncovered videos from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) which show senior GSA officials and staff participating in costumed playacting and parodies – on the taxpayers' dime of course.
Owing to the absolutely ridiculous nature of these videos, our discovery made major headlines nationwide, including Politico, The Huffington Post and The Daily Mail. The Associated Press, which broke our big story, is syndicated in hundreds of newspapers nationwide, and many other media outlets.
These videos provide clear (and bizarre) evidence of GSA’s extravagance, which, along with a scandalous 2010 Las Vegas regional conference, were revealed in a scathing April 2012 inspector general (IG) report.
At one time, you could actually access these videos on the GSA’s own website. Then came the release of the IG Report excoriating GSA’s Vegas party spending, and the videos suddenly disappeared. Until now.
JW obtained the videos in response to a June 15, 2012, FOIA request seeking videos produced by the GSA’s Northeast Region (known as Region 2) from 2011 through June 2012. Because the agency failed to timely respond to Judicial Watch’s FOIA request, Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit on May 23, 2013.
And I think when you view the videos for yourself, you’ll see why the Obama administration attempted to shield them from public disclosure. They show a wide variety of costly and embarrassing videotaped performances by senior GSA officials and employees, including:
The Rocky Jog – (Video Left) With the Rocky movie theme blaring in the background, senior GSA officials lead employees on an extended jog through the corridors of the GSA’s New York office and the streets of Manhattan.
The jog is initiated by Ben Kochanski, Deputy Regional Commissioner, GSA Public Buildings Service, whose 2012 salary was $141,066.
Kochanski is then joined by Joanna Rosato, Regional Commissioner of GSA Public Buildings Service, whose 2012 salary was $164,500. Many additional GSA employees then join these two senior officials.
Many other video examples follow, just click and watch how your taxes are being spent
Directors Meeting – GSA employee tries conducting a seminar for a room full of screeching GSA employees/monkeys who continue drinking and partying until he joins them in a dance routine.
Rap Music Video – GSA official transforms into a rap singer to explain to young employees the need for additional revenue.
Jeopardy – GSA officials and employees participate in an elaborate Jeopardy game show parody, complete with theme music, light-up board, and canned audience applause.
The “Leasefather” – GSA employees parody the baker scene from “The Godfather” movie with supplicant pleading for Don Tony (stroking stuffed cat) to give him justice.
Mission Impossible – Former GSA official Ashley Cohen portrays Jim Phelps in a “Mission Impossible” TV show parody with blaring theme, lit matches, and an exploding tape recorder.
Sherlock Holmes – After an opening with stock footage from Universal Studios, GSA employees costumed as Holmes and Watson conduct a lengthy discussion.
Now I ask you. What do these videos have to do with the proper and efficient functioning of the GSA? Absolutely nothing, of course. Which is why our client, GSA whistleblower Linda Shenwick brought these videos to our attention. Ms. Shenwick objected to frivolous expenditures in the GSA’s Region 2 (which covers the entire Northeast and the Caribbean), the office which produced the videos and earned the ire of her GSA leadership in the process.
Rather than discouraging this juvenile behavior, GSA had a policy of encouraging and rewarding employees who produced and performed in the controversial videos.
And what happened to Ms. Shenwick, who was merely attempting to prevent fraud inside the agency for which she worked? She has since been demoted and isolated, shifted from the agency’s senior executive suite to an office in the agency’s child care center. (Judicial Watch is helping Ms. Shenwick to pursue a whistleblower case against the GSA with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.)
All of this from an agency that touts itself as an “innovation engine” to help the government cut costs!
With respect to the nearly $1 million Las Vegas extravaganza, the event featured not only costly videos similar to those just uncovered by JW, but also luxury accommodations for employees and their loved ones, fine cuisine, parties and expensive gifts. Dozens of agency workers were also awarded cash bonuses for arranging the event, which the Region 9 Commissioner/Acting Regional Administrator had ordered to be “over the top.”
Mission accomplished there.
Disclosure of the Las Vegas event and other abuses led to the removal of some GSA officials, but the agency officials who produced these videos still have their jobs. President Obama is seeking at least $250 million dollars for the GSA in his most recent budget.
Unfortunately, this is not the only example of shameless waste in the form of ridiculous videos and other questionable expenses inside the Obama administration.
As I reported to you a few weeks back, the IRS bankrolled a Star Trek parody video at a cost of $50,187! The agency also produced a video of IRS division managers dancing on stage and spent $44,500 for two speakers, one of whom was paid to create paintings on stage of Michael Jordan and Albert Einstein.
These funds were expended during a 2010 IRS conference that cost American taxpayers $4.1 million overall.
The activities of the GSA and the IRS are further examples of a bloated federal government completely out of control. Clearly the new GSA administrator will have his work cut out for him if this pattern of preposterous waste is to be curtailed.
Our client Linda Shenwick has done her best to alert GSA to these abuses but her efforts were ignored by GSA leadership. Federal employees such as Ms. Shenwick, who alert senior officials to this type of wasteful nonsense, are punished and vilified. As these newly uncovered videos demonstrate, there clearly needs to be a more thorough housecleaning at GSA. In fact, every agency in this administration is due for a good scrubbing.
If you want to get a sense of the Obama/Holder Department of Justice’s (DOJ) policies on race, just take a look at the agency’s response to two high profile events.
Let’s start with the thugs from the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense who brandished weapons and threatened prospective voters at a Philadelphia polling station in 2008. The Bush DOJ quickly filed criminal charges against the activists in a very public voter intimidation case. Then Barack Obama got elected, installed Eric Holder, and the DOJ dropped much of the case over the objections of its own attorneys.
Judicial Watch (along with key disclosures by whistleblowers and former DOJ attorneys Christopher Coates and J. Christian Adams) was able to help prove that the racist application of voting rights laws by Obama political appointees inside DOJ was the root cause of this terrible decision. We also proved that at least one DOJ official lied under oath about who was involved in the decision. (Read more here.)
Now contrast this response with that of the DOJ to last year’s shooting death of a young black man named Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman (a Hispanic) in Florida. (Zimmerman was charged in the shooting and is now standing trial.)
According to documents unearthed by JW, following the Martin shooting, the Holder DOJ dispatched a little-known unit within the agency called the Community Relations Service (CRS), to Sanford, FL, to help organize and manage rallies and protests against George Zimmerman.
Now here’s how we got the records. We first filed a FOIA request with the DOJ on April 24, 2012, and received 125 pages on May 30, 2012. We then administratively appealed the request on June 5, 2012, and received 222 pages more on March 6, 2013. (This investigation resulted in requests for information being filed by Judicial Watch with 13 different government agencies!)
Included in those documents that weren’t withheld from us (and plenty were) are vouchers for expenses associated with the community organizing activity of DOJ employees. Highlights include:
March 25 – 27, 2012, CRS spent $674.14 upon being “deployed to Sanford, FL, to work marches, demonstrations, and rallies related to the shooting and death of an African-American teen by a neighborhood watch captain.”
March 25 – 28, 2012, CRS spent $1,142.84 “in Sanford, FL to work marches, demonstrations, and rallies related to the shooting and death of an African-American teen by a neighborhood watch captain.
March 30 – April 1, 2012, CRS spent $892.55 in Sanford, FL “to provide support for protest deployment in Florida.”
March 30 – April 1, 2012, CRS spent an additional $751.60 in Sanford, FL “to provide technical assistance to the City of Sanford, event organizers, and law enforcement agencies for the march and rally on March 31.”
April 3 – 12, 2012, CRS spent $1,307.40 in Sanford, FL “to provide technical assistance, conciliation, and onsite mediation during demonstrations planned in Sanford.”
April 11 – 12, 2012, CRS spent $552.35 in Sanford, FL “to provide technical assistance for the preparation of possible marches and rallies related to the fatal shooting of a 17 year old African American male.”
But there’s more.
From a Florida Sunshine Law request filed on April 23, 2012, JW received thousands of pages of emails on April 27, 2012, in which was found an email by Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board Program Officer Amy Carswell from April 16, 2012 , discussing a news article in the Orlando Sentinel about the secretive peacekeepers: “Congratulations to our partners, Thomas Battles, Regional Director, and Mildred De Robles, Miami-Dade Coordinator and their co-workers at the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service for their outstanding and ongoing efforts to reduce tensions and build bridges of understanding and respect in Sanford, Florida.”
In reply to that message, Battles said: “Thank you Partner. You did lots of stuff behind the scene to make Miami a success. We will continue to work together.” He signed the email simply Tommy.
Carswell responded: “That’s why we make the big bucks.”
But is this really what the DOJ’s participation was all about in this case – “reducing tensions and building bridges?” Not by a long shot.
Set up under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the DOJ’s CRS, the employees of which are required by law to “conduct their activities in confidence,” reportedly has greatly expanded its role under President Barack Obama.
Though the agency claims to use “impartial mediation practices and conflict resolution procedures,” press reports along with the documents obtained by Judicial Watch suggest that the unit deployed to Sanford, FL, took an active role in working with those demanding the prosecution of Zimmerman.
On April 15, 2012, during the height of the protests, the Orlando Sentinel reported, “They [the CRS] helped set up a meeting between the local NAACP and elected officials that led to the temporary resignation of police Chief Bill Lee according to Turner Clayton, Seminole County chapter president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.”
The paper quoted the Rev. Valarie Houston, pastor of Allen Chapel AME Church, a focal point for protestors, as saying “They were there for us,” after a March 20 meeting with CRS agents.
Separately, in response to a Florida Sunshine Law request to the City of Sanford, Judicial Watch also obtained an audio recording of a “community meeting” held at Second Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Sanford on April 19, 2012.
The meeting, which led to the ouster of Sanford’s Police Chief Bill Lee, was scheduled after a group of college students calling themselves the “Dream Defenders” barricaded the entrance to the police department demanding Lee be fired. Leading the meeting is none other CRS federal employee Thomas Battles. Battles says during the meeting, that “if a community perceives that there’s something wrong in the black community, there’s something wrong.” That sounds like something racial agitator – and United States Attorney General Eric Holder crony – Al Sharpton might say!
According to the Orlando Sentinel, DOJ employees with the CRS had arranged a 40-mile police escort for the students from Daytona Beach to Sanford.
These documents detail the extraordinary intervention by the Justice Department in the pressure campaign leading to the prosecution of George Zimmerman. My guess is that most Americans would rightly object to taxpayers paying government employees to help organize racially-charged demonstrations.
So don’t believe the hype from the DOJ that the agency’s intervention on behalf of Trayvon Martin was about peace-keeping. This was about Alinsky-style organizing and racial politics pure and simple, something the Holder Justice Department practices on a daily bases.
The moment Barack Obama tapped Hillary Clinton to serve as Secretary of State, the alarm bells starting ringing. Not only because of the Clintons’ long history of corruption (see Chinagate, Filegate, Travelgate and the long list of women abused and smeared by both Clintons, for just a few examples), but also because of the Clintons’ propensity to peddle influence to the highest bidder without regard for the harmful impact on the United States of America and its people.
How on earth could Hillary Clinton serve as the nation’s top diplomat with her husband traipsing around the globe collecting six figures on speeches and donations from foreign governments for his Clinton Global Initiative? What kind of wheeling and dealing took place behind closed doors that might compromise or influence U.S diplomatic policy? The possibilities for high stakes shenanigans were endless.
And so, Judicial Watch began asking questions. And those questions were ignored (again) by the Obama administration in defiance of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). So we are now once again forced to go through the courts to seek redress.
On May 28, we filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of State to obtain documents pertaining to possible conflicts of interest between the actions taken by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and Bill Clinton’s activities (including his Clinton Global Initiative).
The Judicial Watch lawsuit was filed after two years of the State Department refusing to comply with a May 2011 FOIA request for responsive documents. By law, “all federal agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days.”
Pursuant to a Judicial Watch FOIA request filed with Department of Justice (DOJ) on May 2, 2011, in addition to standard forms from the Office of Personnel Management pertaining to Clinton’s position as Secretary of State, we seek the following records:
Any and all certificates of divestiture for Mrs. Clinton;
Any and all individual waivers issued to or for Mrs. Clinton pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 208 (b)(1) and 5 C.F.R. §2640.301 or any other applicable ethics statues, regulations, guidelines or agreements;
Any and all communications and records of communications – including but not limited to phone logs – related to Mr. Clinton’s speech schedule; and,
Any and all communications and records of communications – including but not limited to e-mails, fax reports, and phone logs – related to former Mr. Clinton’s personal or charitable financial relationships with foreign leaders and governments.
As I say, information from the Obama administration has not been forthcoming.
The State Department acknowledged receiving the Judicial Watch FOIA request on May 17, 2011, and was required by law to respond by June 8, 2011, at the latest. As of the date of Judicial Watch’s lawsuit, the State Department had failed to produce any records responsive to the request, indicate when any responsive records will be produced, or demonstrate that responsive records are exempt from production.
The potential for conflicts of interest between Hillary Clinton’s role as Secretary of State and Bill Clinton’s international ventures grew increasingly controversial in late 2008 when the former president released a list of 200,000+ donors to his library and foundation in what he termed “a deal between” Obama “and Hillary.”
This “deal” reportedly included nine conditions to which Bill Clinton acquiesced, says the New York Times, including a ban on foreign government contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative. And here’s why those donations are so sensitive.
According to an AP wire story, “Saudi Arabia gave $10 million – $25 million to the foundation. Other government donors include Norway, Kuwait, Qatar, Brunei, Oman …” CNN at the time warned that Clinton’s “complicated global business interests could present future conflicts of interest that result in unneeded headaches for the incoming commander-in-chief.”
Yes, the web of connections between the Clintons and foreign interests is complex, to say the least. But the potential impact of these complexities goes far beyond any migraines suffered by Barack Obama. This is about the potential for undermining our national interest in exchange for contributions to the Clintons’ coffers.
After all, the Clintons sold out our national security to the Communist Chinese in exchange for contributions to Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign. So why not solicit the Saudi Arabians for contributions to Clinton’s non-profit empire, for example? Again, in politics, and especially with the Clintons, even the appearance of impropriety can be impropriety itself.
Also among the “conditions” of the Clinton-Obama deal was a stipulation requiring Bill Clinton’s activities to be subjected to review by State Department ethics officials.
Does this make you feel more comfortable? Especially considering the fact that one of the individuals responsible for vetting Mrs. Clinton for the job of Secretary of State in the first place was none other than Bill Clinton’s former deputy White House counsel Cheryl Mills.
Mills is a longtime Clinton family confidante, who “endeared herself to the Clintons with her never-back-down, share-nothing, don’t-give-an-inch approach …” wrote the Washington Post in 1999.
As I noted in a recent column on Mills, she has been a “Clinton cover-up expert, specializing in subverting investigations of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Whether in the Bill Clinton White House or the Hillary Clinton State Department, Mills has served as something of a “double agent” — working on the taxpayers’ tab while seeming to spend all her time defending the personal fortunes of the Clintons.” (Read more about her activities here.)
Most recently, evidence emerged that Mills attempted to silence the congressional testimony of State Department whistleblower Gregory Hicks in the Benghazi-gate scandal.
Not surprisingly, after clearing Mrs. Clinton for the DOS job, Mills was named the incoming Secretary’s Chief of Staff. Incidentally, Ms. Mills was also a featured speaker at Bill Clinton’s 2012 Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting.
So the job of “ethically vetting” Mrs. Clinton was left to a former Clinton hack, who was subsequently offered a job from the person whom she was “investigating.” And she also served as a keynote speaker for the very organization at the center of the controversy over the Clintons’ conflicts of interest. Hardly reassuring.
And this is precisely why we went to court to secure the records necessary for the American people to judge for themselves whether or not Bill and Hillary Clinton acted ethically during the former First Lady’s tenure at the State Department. We’re certainly not willing to leave the matter to the likes of Cheryl Mills.
If you’d like to help us in this investigation, or the many others we have ongoing, please consider a tax-deductible contribution by clicking here. Every bit helps!
Until next week…
Tom Fitton, President Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law. Through its educational endeavors, Judicial Watch advocates high standards of ethics and morality in our nation's public life and seeks to ensure that political and judicial officials do not abuse the powers entrusted to them by the American people. Judicial Watch fulfills its educational mission through litigation, investigations, and public outreach.