"White House staff apparently purposely schedule meetings at the Caribou Coffee around the corner from the White House so that those meetings wont show up on the White House logs," said Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight subcommittee.
Republicans portrayed the White House as failing to live up to campaign promises on transparency. Stearns pointed to President Obama, who as a candidate said healthcare negotiations would air on C-SPAN, an idea that never came to fruition.
"This president has apparently gone out of his way to avoid transparency even though he said he would be transparent," Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said.
Democrats defended the White House and said the GOP's allegations are suspect. "There is nothing wrong with someone going out for a cup of coffee," said Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), ranking member of the subcommittee.
"There is something wrong with someone going out to avoid disclosure."
She suggested the coffee-shop allegations are unproven and based on questionable sourcing, including news reports that granted anonymity to the speakers. GOP members criticized the White House for failing to appear at the hearing.
Full committee ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said the White House got only a few days' notice and had a schedule conflict. Waxman said the hearing was "not about open government. It's about politics."
He said the hearing was an attempt to "embarrass an administration" that wanted to make its case but simply had a schedule conflict.
Witnesses were split on transparency in the Obama administration. Tom Fritton, the president of Judicial Watch, a conservative group, said the Caribou meetings are a major problem. "This ethics gamesmanship undermines the rule of law and makes one think that this administration has something to hide," he said.
Anne Weismann, chief counsel for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, was positive about Obama's transparency efforts. Weismann said her transparency concerns surround federal agencies rather than the White House. "I think [Obama] has put some of the key components in place," she said.
Most transparent administration ever !
“Transparency — President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and WhiteHouse.gov will play a major role in delivering on that promise. “