Emails show health officials stonewalled inquiry on Sebelius fundraising

FILE: May 15, 2012: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks in Bethesda, Md.

FILE: May 15, 2012: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks in Bethesda, Md.  (AP)

Newly published emails show how health officials stonewalled a request by for information about Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' under-the-radar fundraising for a pro-ObamaCare group. 

The emails were published Monday by The Washington Examiner, and show how officials were sent into a frenzy by the initial inquiry. first reached out to the pro-ObamaCare group, Enroll America, last May to inquire about claims that Sebelius was making calls to nonprofits to raise money for its Affordable Care Act awareness campaigns. was told "there was no truth" to the tip. 

But the emails show officials acknowledging, privately, that it was accurate. 

"He asked me point blank if this was true," wrote then-Enroll aide Cate Bonacini, according to emails obtained by the Examiner. 

Within four minutes, Enroll consultant and Democratic operative Michael Czin wrote back: "Did you say that off the record?" 

In an email several minutes later, Czin, a former Obama campaign staffer who later in May became a Democratic National Committee spokesman, acknowledged the veracity of the tip. 

"Sebelius is helping with some fundraising," he wrote. 

Bonacini, in her first email, told that "somebody would get back," though "to the best of my awareness, there was no truth" to the tip. 

A flurry of emails with the subject line "Urgent: Press inquiry from Fox News" followed minutes later among Czin, Enroll America President Anne Filipic, Bonacini and other Enroll staffers and senior HHS aides, according to the Examiner. 

Officials with Enroll America and HHS did not clarify Sebelius' role to at the time. But two days after the inquiry, at about 4:15 p.m. on a Friday, The Washington Post broke the story that Sebelius had in fact made "multiple phone calls" to "health industry executives, community organizations and church groups" asking them to fund nonprofit efforts to "increase awareness" of ObamaCare. 

An HHS spokeswoman, after the Post story was published, told she had dropped the ball on the request. 

Republicans and other ObamaCare critics railed at the news of Sebelius' calls, saying she attempted to skirt congressional requests that no more money could be spent on promoting the 2010 health care law. 

Two GOP-led House committees started investigations last year on the issue. 

HHS has argued the fundraising is legal under the Public Health Services Act, which allows the secretary to promote such programs and private nonprofit groups trying to promote public-health priorities. And the agency has pointed to a similar Bush administration effort to expand Medicare Part D. made a follow-up attempt to get the information by filing a Freedom of Information Act request with HHS. The June 10 request sought phone and email logs for calls Sebelius made asking or encouraging people to give money to nonprofits to help them sign up Americans for ObamaCare. 

"No responsive records were located in response to your request," the agency wrote back three months later.'s Joseph Weber contributed to this report.