The top Republican on the House's oversight committee asked the White House on Monday about an e-mail from a top political adviser urging support for a health care overhaul and whether officials are collecting names of President Barack Obama's critics.
In a letter to White House counsel Greg Craig, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asked for details about who received a health care e-mail signed by Obama adviser David Axelrod. Issa also wanted to know how, exactly, the White House was using a separate e-mail account designed to track what it called "fishy" claims about its proposed overhaul — an account that was disabled Monday afternoon.
"I am concerned about the possibility that political e-mail address lists are being used for official purposes," Issa wrote. "This, again, raises questions about this administration blurring the lines between political and official business."
A White House spokesman traveling with Obama on a trip to Arizona did not have immediate comment. But administration officials have been dismissive of complaints that people had received unsolicited e-mail messages or that the administration was compiling an enemies list as conservative Web sites and talk radio programs have alleged.
"The fear has been expressed that the White House was asking neighbors to inform on neighbors in a government-led data collection effort," said Issa, the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Weeks ago, White House officials asked the public to share critics' e-mails so they could fight back and correct the misconceptions. Because those e-mails are official correspondence with the White House, they must be preserved — unaltered — for decades and eventually released to the public through the National Archives.
Issa said he wants an answer on how the administration is archiving those e-mails and what protections would be put in place to prevent it from become an enemies list.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has faced questions about the practice during recent briefings with reporters and had treated them with a dismissive tone.
"All we're asking people to do is, if they're confused about what health care reform is going to mean to them, we're happy to help clear that up for you. Nobody is keeping anybody's names," he said on Aug. 6.
Issa on Monday also cited reports that some people received the e-mail even though they never signed up. Critics say that suggests the White House combined its taxpayer-funded list with member rolls from other political groups.
The White House has adamantly denied that claim. Administration officials have said the e-mail from Axelrod went only to people who signed up for a White House e-mail list typically used to provide updates on the president's speeches.