WASHINGTON (AP) — The Agriculture Department abruptly ordered congressional auditors to leave its headquarters and told its employees not to cooperate with them.
"You are hereby instructed not to meet with any member of the (Government Accountability Office) today, or until this matter is resolved," Michael Watts, a top USDA attorney, wrote to employees Wednesday in an e-mail obtained by The Associated Press.
The auditors were seeking information for an ongoing audit on Agriculture's office of civil rights and its handling of discrimination complaints. Specifically, they were investigating allegations that the department had previously provided false information for the audit.
J. Michael Kelly, Agriculture's deputy general counsel, said the GAO investigators called the department Wednesday morning to say they were on their way to its headquarters and wanted to speak with a handful of specific employees.
The auditors refused to allow USDA lawyers to be present for the interviews, and after allowing one employee to talk, department officials stopped the interviews and told the investigators to leave the building, Kelly said.