Two senior congressmen Thursday demanded a criminal investigation of NASA's top lawyer for destroying government records of a meeting involving the agency's administrator and its embattled inspector general.
The request follows a May 24 congressional hearing at which NASA General Counsel Michael Wholley admitted breaking up and discarding DVD recordings to avoid public disclosure of what he termed "a closed meeting, specifically directed to not be recorded."
The two congressmen, the chairman and ranking Republican of a House science-oversight subcommittee, want U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to see whether authorities should charge Wholley with obstruction of justice or destruction of government records.
"He destroyed [records] to keep us from getting them," said U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., who signed the letter with Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
Wholley did not return calls seeking comment.
NASA spokesman David Mould said Thursday that the agency would cooperate with investigators but officials have yet to uncover copies of recordings of the April 10 meeting, though "a lot of people have looked."
The meeting -- attended by Inspector General Robert "Moose" Cobb, his staff and NASA Administrator Michael Griffin -- was called to address findings by a special White House investigative panel that Cobb verbally abused subordinates and created the appearance he lacked independence from the agency he is supposed to monitor. Griffin had responded by ordering Cobb to attend leadership-training sessions.
NASA public-affairs officials taped the meeting for the benefit of employees who couldn't attend. But the session became controversial after Griffin defended Cobb and told auditors to limit the scope of their work.
Attendees told Congress that Griffin said he was interested only in audits and recommendations that saved NASA at least $1 billion, according to the letter sent to Gonzales. The inspector general is supposed to be independent and take no orders from the NASA administrator.
Jaclyn Lesch, Department of Justice spokeswoman, would not comment directly on the letter but said investigators would review the matter, as with any allegation of criminal misconduct.
The letter is the latest salvo between NASA and Congress. Earlier this month, when Cobb testified before a joint House and Senate panel about the integrity committee's report, four lawmakers -- including Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida -- repeated demands that he quit. Cobb later said he would not.
The White House panel's yearlong inquiry dismissed a list of complaints against Cobb but found several cases in which he mistreated subordinates and two instances in which he appeared to try to shield NASA from embarrassment by not reporting incidents to proper authorities.
One involved an ultimately unverified report that a ring was stolen from the body of astronaut Laurel Clark, killed in the 2003 Columbia accident. Another centered on theft of rocket-engine data from a NASA computer.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun