In a dramatic display that stretched across two committee hearings on Tuesday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) subpoenaed the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration for documents on its confidential sources program.
Members of Congress have been seeking copies of the DEA's informant guidelines since last year, following an eye-opening report by the Department of Justice watchdog. The agency's inspector general detailed how the agency doled out more than $200 million to confidential sources with very little oversight.
Lawmakers have only been allowed to view the policy documents in-camera, meaning without staff or any means to make copies for themselves. Chaffetz blasted the arrangement, calling it inadequate.
"Congress has a right to have this material," Chaffetz said, during an Oversight Committee hearing that he chaired on Tuesday morning. "It is unbelievable to me that you think we shouldn't have a copy of it."
Robert Patterson, the current Deputy Administrator of the DEA, responded by claiming that the DOJ was blocking the release of copies of the guidelines to lawmakers.
Chaffetz told Patterson that he was going to walk next door to the House Judiciary Committee -- where DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg was testifying on separate matters -- to issue a subpoena for the documents.
A few hours later, Chaffetz followed through on his promise, after taking his seat on the judiciary subcommittee down the hall.
"We are issuing a subpoena, and so I see no choice," he then told DEA chief Rosenberg.
"The Department of Justice just doesn't get to hide things from the United States Congress," Chaffetz added. He said that there's evidence of "massive problems" with the DEA confidential informant program.
"I will look at the subpoena carefully and I will have a further discussion with you," Rosenberg responded.
According to the DOJ Inspector General's findings last September, the DEA paid $237 million to more than 18,000 informants over the last five years, but the agency has not detailed if the sources' information is reliable.
The loose oversight "exposes the agency to an unacceptably increased potential for fraud, waste, and abuse, particularly given the frequency with which DEA offices utilize and pay confidential sources," the IG concluded.
"It seems like we should be able to review this," Chaffetz said Tuesday.
The House Oversight Committee chair had the backing of many colleagues, including the panel's ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
"I wholeheartedly support the chairman," Cummings said. "We're just trying to do our job."