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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Exclusive: Emails raise questions about White House knowledge of Sebelius' fundraising -- By Susan Crabtree, The Washington Examiner

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius listens as she testifies about health care sign-up problems on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 11. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)Second in a series of stories on the Obama administration's outside fundraising efforts to promote Obamacare enrollment.

Emails obtained by the Washington Examiner through a Freedom of Information Act request raise new questions about how much the White House knew about Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' fundraising for Obamacare and whether she solicited donations from entities she regulates.

White House officials have said they did not sign off on calls made by Sebelius to solicit donations from private entities for Enroll America, an outside nonprofit with close White House ties that promotes enrollment in the health law's insurance exchanges. Officials say they were only generally aware Sebelius would be seeking support from outside groups.

In late January, HHS's Freedom of Information Act office released 257 pages of emails in response to a June request from the Washington Examiner.

The documents are heavily redacted with 12 pages withheld in their entirety and another 179 pages of “responsive records” still “under review for consultation” before a decision is made on their release.

The emails show that White House Office of Public Engagement staffers participated in weekly conference calls with HHS and Enroll America. The emails also show that the agenda of these phone meetings included Sebelius' calls to outside entities, high-level operational planning and more focused outreach with private partners through senior White House aides.

In one email, dated May 6, 2013, Anton Gunn, then director of external affairs for HHS, said he believed two separate conference calls should be merged — one that involved Enroll America and HHS and another that included the White House. The email was sent to Anne Filipic, the president of Enroll America and former OPE deputy director, and other HHS and Enroll America staff.

“I believe the content of these calls has overlapped on more than one occasion, but I want to make sure HHS and Enroll America are clear that we agree that these calls should be permanently merged in to [sic] ONE call with White House staff and that call should happen Weekly? Or is it every other week?” Gunn asked.

Filipic responded that a weekly call “makes sense” and believed it should combine “WH/HHS/EA.”

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