Video screenshots

The Department of Health and Human Services has a bit of a problem with sexual abuse of minors in its baby jails, as documents revealed Tuesday show. So HHS has taken swift action to deal with the scandal: It's demanding a member of Congress apologize for not sufficiently clarifying that the instances of abuse were alleged against staffers and contractors of the nonprofits that operate the baby jails, not HHS employees. How DARE anyone impugn the character of the fine people who work for HHS and just happened to contract out work to other people who turned out to be abusive. HHS has a reputation to think of, after all.

The allegations of widespread abuse surfaced in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Trump administration's family separation policy. Rep. Ded Deutch, a Florida Democrat, asked Commander Jonathan White to comment on the abuse allegations, which he said had been buried in a tranche of documents submitted to his office by HHS after a request. Here's part of the exchange, where Deutch scurrilously slanders the good government employees who never done nothing wrong except contract out to people who did very wrong things.

2.26.19 Rep. Deutch at Judiciary Committee hearing on Administration's child separation policy

As documents posted by Deutch show, between fiscal years 2015 and 2017, there were over 4,500 allegations of sexual misconduct in shelters that held "unaccompanied alien children" for HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement. Most of the reports involve inappropriate contacts between kids, which HHS is legally required to track and investigate. But there were also 154 cases where shelter staff were accused of inappropriate touching or verbal harassment. Deutch asked White whether HHS's top brass were aware of those numbers, and whether that history of abuse went into any discussions in the run-up to the start of family separation.

These documents tell us there is a problem with adults, employees of HHS, sexually abusing children [...] When you carried out the zero tolerance policy ... you knew that putting thousands of kids at risk of sexual abuse would be the result. Did you discuss this issue before going forward?

White, however, wasn't interested so much in the abuse, but in defending the good name of his department, because the abusers weren't government employees; they worked for the nonprofits that actually own and operate the shelters, and so please stop saying they're HHS staff, you MONSTER:

Representative, let me first correct an error. Those are not HHS staff in any of those allegations. That statement is false [...] You are speaking of allegations of sexual abuse against members of my team.

Deutch cut in and reclaimed his time, because maybe it's the abuse that matters more than the org chart? In the documents -- and it took some digging to find, he added --

I saw thousands of cases of sexual abuse, if not by HHS staff, then by the people that HHS staff oversees. I will make that clarification; it doesn't make what happened any less horrific [...] The question is, when you went forward with this policy, did anyone discuss this?

Again, White wanted to clarify -- and diminish -- the history of sex abuse in the baby jails. Those were only allegations, and White added, HHS opposed family separation from the beginning (fact check: true, although it's not clear how vigorously).

By Thursday, however, ORR was digging in its heels because that terrible Democrat had besmirched the name of its honorable staff. In a creative twist on the Nuremberg defense, HHS insisted it's blameless, because it never did any raping itself, it merely oversaw rapists, and by God, ORR demands an apology! ORR director Jonathan Hayes wrote Deutch a very stern letter reminding him the buck stops with other people:

By deliberately or negligently mischaracterizing the data during a televised hearing, you impugned the integrity of hundreds of federal civil servants [...]

Acknowledging that you were in the wrong is the moral, decent and right thing to do.

Hayes said HHS leadership would absolutely not meet with Deutch to discuss the alleged abuse in the shelters until he apologized, never mind that the video of the hearing shows him acknowledging the alleged abuse was by contractors -- who were under the authority of HHS. Deutch says that clarification was plenty, and he has nothing to apologize for because HHS is ultimately responsible.

Our job is to conduct oversight [...] I've never seen a response like this, that simply refuses to come talk to members of Congress ... I think they'd be interested in discussing [this] because people are outraged

You bet they're outraged! The American People are outraged about whether it was government employees or private contractors who abused children. And by golly, until you say uncle, no oversight for YOU.

Deutch seems unwilling to accommodate this very simple request to shift the focus from sexual abuse to the supposed dignity of an agency that allowed it to take place. He told Politico he isn't about to apologize, and that HHS is engaging in some outrageous misdirection worthy of a common Trump family member:

What I find so shocking and so disconcerting is the seeming acceptance of any number of staff on unaccompanied minor cases of sexual assault, [...] The tolerance for those horrific acts should be zero.

OK, Mister Smart Guy, but some of that abuse took place when Obama was president, so aren't you just a big hypocrite, only pretending to be outraged because you learned of the abuse during the Trump administration? MAGA! Illegals! Women in the back of cars with tape over their mouths! Build WALL!

Should HHS continue to stonewall over this, it is expected the hearings will be shifted to the Natural Resources Committee, which has oversight over the US Fish and Wildlife Service. They have jurisdiction over red herrings.

[Roll Call / CNN / Politico / Rep. Ted Deutch]

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