With the 2014 regular session of the legislature less than two weeks away, there have already been a couple of interesting developments that could prevent lawmakers from learning how a federal investigation of a major contract came about in the first place.
There already is speculation that two recent resignations in the Jindal administration may have something to do with avoiding testimony before legislative committees that may wish to look into the controversial $284 million contract between the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) and CNSI.
Subpoenas could be issued for Paul Rainwater, Jerry Phillips, and Bruce Greenstein but if they choose to ignore subpoenas, the legislature has options in that legislative subpoenas carry the same weight as a court subpoena provided a legislative subpoena meets certain criteria.
It is, to say the least, curious that former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater (more recently, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Chief of Staff), and DHH Undersecretary Jerry Phillips resigned only a few days apart and less than a month before the legislature convenes at noon on March 10.
Apparently timing in politics, like in comedy, is everything. Phillips, while giving no specific date for his retirement, did say he would retire “before the start of the session.”
DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert said Phillips, who has worked for DHH for 25 years, will pursue “other employment options with the state following his retirement.” She said he would be replaced by DHH Deputy Director Jeff Reynolds on (drum roll, please…) March 10.
That, or course, raises the obvious question of whether Phillips will remain conveniently retired until the session adjourns on June 2 before becoming the latest retire-rehire, a popular trend among executive level state employees these days.
Phillips, you may recall was seated next to Greenstein back in June of 2011 when the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee was considering the confirmation of Greenstein as Jindal’s choice for DHH Secretary.
It was Phillips who repeatedly advised Greenstein and defended his boss’s refusal to identify to the committee CNSI as the winner of the 10-year, $30 million-a-year contract to replace DHH’s 23-year-old computer system that adjudicates health care claims and case providers.
Greenstein has previously worked for CNSI and when he refused to identify the contract winner, then-Sen. Rob Marionneaux (D-Livonia) asked, “Are you telling me right now, today, that you’re refusing to tell this committee who’s going to receive that…contract?”
After several more exchanges between Greenstein and Marionneaux, Green said, “I’m not going to be able to say today.”
Sen. Jody Amedee (R-Gonzales) then asked Greenstein, “Who made the decision not to tell us this information under oath?”
“This was from my department…”
“You are the department,” Amedee interrupted. “Who is the person above you? Who is your boss?”
“The governor,” said Greenstein.
“Can you tell me if this company you used to work for—whether or not they got the contract?”
“I can’t discuss the matter.”
“You can, you just choose not to,” Amedee said.
At one point after Greenstein and Phillips repeatedly alluded to the “process and procedure” employed by DHH in awarding contracts, Amedee, in apparent frustration, tossed his pencil over his shoulder and turned away from the witnesses.
Committee Vice-Chair Karen Carter Peterson said, “You don’t want me to know, but you know. Is this what we call transparency?”
Phillips said once the contractor’s name is made public, “it’s the equivalent of an announcement.”
“Do you make the law?” Peterson shot back.
“I interpret the law,” said Phillips, who is an attorney.
“Then you’re not doing a good job. Mr. Secretary (Greenstein), I hope you’re paying attention. How many lawyers do we have on this committee? We make law and yet you choose to follow this gentleman (Phillips).”
“It’s all part of the process,” Phillips said. “It’s (the selection process) done in conjunction with consultation and direction from the procurement folks.”
“In conjunction with whom?” asked Peterson.
“They’re part of the Division of Administration,” he said for the first time, implicating DOA—and Rainwater—in the controversy.
Committee Chairman Robert “Bob” Kostelka (R-Monroe) finally broke in to say, “I don’t know the difference between firewalling and stonewalling but this committee’s concern is whether or not to recommend to the full Senate that these people should be confirmed for the jobs for which they’ve been nominated.
“The much larger issue here is the integrity of the entire DHH. We don’t care about your procedures. We’ve got to determine if we trust the integrity of the people before us. We’re asking you to put aside your procedures and protocol and answer our questions. Knowing that, I don’t see why
you cannot make this committee aware if a former employer of this man is going to win a multi-million dollar contract from the state.”
When Phillips again attempted to invoke “respect for the statute,” Kostelka interrupted. “Again, sir, this has nothing to do with making the award. We’re asking who got the contract. It’s pretty obvious to us that they’re (CNSI) the one getting the contract.”
At that point, Phillips asked if he could confer with Greenstein. The two left the room for 16 minutes and upon their return, Greenstein, after a few more questions, said, “It is CNSI.”
Rainwater, who on Feb. 17, unexpectedly announced his resignation as Jindal’s Chief of Staff, effective Mar. 3, a week before the legislature convenes. He served as Commissioner of Administration from Aug. 9, 2010, until October 15, 2012, when he moved across the street to the governor’s office.
As chief of staff, Rainwater has been in charge of the policy advisors and strategists and supposedly enjoys a close day-to-day working relationship with Jindal—though probably not nearly as close as Timmy Teepell through whom Jindal has funneled nearly $3 million from his campaign ($1.27 million), and his non-profit organizations Believe in Louisiana ($1.22 million) and America Next. (No payments have been listed for America Next, Jindal apparently having learned his lesson when he listed contributions and payments to Believe in Louisiana.)
It’s difficult to believe that Rainwater, in overseeing Jindal’s advisors and strategists, would have been unwise enough to advise his boss to go off the way he did at the National Governor’s Conference on Monday. He is far too intelligent for such foolishness.
Even the Baton Rouge Advocate saw Jindal for what he really is—a spoiled brat who, if he can’t have his way, pouts or throws a tantrum—as depicted in one of the best editorial cartoons we’ve seen in a long time:
That was plain idiotic and inappropriate and in the world of political faux pas, ranks right up there with his college exorcism and his Republican response to President Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address.
The suggestion of a tactic to make Jindal look that silly in front of a national television audience could only have come from someone like Teepell. Unless, of course, Jindal simply ad-libbed it which is certainly not out of the question, given his propensity of letting his alligator mouth overload his jaybird backside.
But back to the resignations of Greenstein, Phillips and Rainwater.
Greenstein announced his resignation on Mar. 29, 2013 immediately after word of a federal investigation into the CNSI contract was announced. Even then, for reasons no one has yet explained, he was allowed to remain until May. At about the same time as Greenstein’s resignation announcement was made, it was learned that a federal grand jury in Baton Rouge had subpoenaed all records dealing with the CNSI contract from the Division of Administration (DOA) as early as January of 2013.
That would mean that Jindal had to know about the investigation as much as three months before Greenstein’s resignation but said nothing about the probe and only cancelled the CNSI contract after the Baton Rouge Advocate broke the story of the four-page subpoena.
And now, only days—and in one case, only hours—before the opening of the 2014 legislative session, two other prominent figures in the CNSI story will be gone, out of reach of any curious legislative committee which might wish to question them about their knowledge of events surrounding the awarding of the contract.
Legislative committees and subcommittees have the authority under legislative rule to conduct studies, administer oaths to witnesses and to seek subpoenas and punishment for contempt although subpoenas require the approval of the Speaker of the House or President of the Senate upon the request of the committee chairman or by a majority of the standing committee members.
Louisiana Revised Statute 24:4 through 24:6 provides that a person is guilty of contempt of the legislature “if he willfully fails after subpoena to appear or produce materials.” Initiation of prosecution for criminal contempt is by certification to the district in the proper venue, in this case East Baton Rouge Parish.
The legislative subpoena and contempt provisions have been upheld in a number of court cases, most notably a 1972 case involving a state legislator who claimed to have tape recordings of an attempt to bribe him and a 1979 case against then-Insurance Commissioner Sherman Bernard and his deputy commissioner.
The two men, who appeared subject to subpoenas, interrupted committee hearings on insurance regulations and left the meeting room despite warning that their actions subjected them to being held in contempt. The two were subsequently held in contempt and fined $500 each.