Who knew a cup of coffee could be so fraught?
Visits to a coffee house near the White House during the health care debate by a top adviser to President Obama's reelection campaign and use of his personal email when he was a White House staffer "appears to be a violation of the law," according to a new allegation by Mitt Romney's top spokesman.
Republicans have been highlighting the Obama administration's alleged hypocrisy on transparency in holding meetings with lobbyists off White House grounds in order to keep them secret. While the meetings have been extensively reported before by ABC News and the New York Times, a new report published Tuesday by House Republicans exposed a raft of e-mail messages between industry lobbyists and Obama administration officials deliberately making plans to rendezvous off-site to avoid detection.
Some of the meetings took place at a Caribou Coffee shop near the White House and a number of e-mails show then White House chief of staff Jim Messina -- now the manager of President Obama's re-election effort -- using a personal account to discuss health care reform with a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist.
"I will roll [P]elosi to get the 4 billion," Messina wrote to Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America lobbyist Jeffrey Forbes. "As you may have heard I am literally rolling over the house. But there just isn't 8-10 billion."
The allegation by Republicans is that Messsina's use of his personal address may be a violation of the Presidential Records Act.
"On its face, this appears to be a violation of the law which requires that all official communications be preserved," Romney campaign senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said in a conference call with reporters this morning.
White House press secretary Jay Carney has insisted administration officials did not attempt to hide their meetings by arranging them through personal e-mail accounts or holding them at location outside of the White House.
"Mr. Messina had a longstanding personal email account in which he got traffic. In an effort to comply with all the regulations pertaining to emails, he would forward emails to his White House account or copy his White House account so that those emails would be part of presidential record," Carney said.
Republicans have been sinking their teeth into this line of attack during the same week that Democrats have been touting a new report from the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC-based think tank that found Romney's tax plan "would provide large tax cuts to high-income households, and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers."
It's not the first time one campaign has accused the other of breaking the law. A top Obama campaign staffer, Stephanie Cutter, suggested Romney broke the law by not properly disclosing his relationship with Bain Capital. He left the firm in 1999, but remained technically it's CEO for years while details of his severance were formalized.
It's all part of both campaigns' continuing battle for the heart and soul of the middle class.
The latest ABC News-Washington Post poll showed Obama and Romney tied at 46 percent on the question of "which candidate do you trust to do a better job handling taxes." This provides Obama the opportunity to go on the offense here on taxes - not something a Democrat normally has the opportunity to do.
But don't expect the Romney campaign to let up either. One Republican strategist familiar with this week's messaging said we haven't heard the last of it. As the strategist put it, tongue in check, "The slow-roasting of Jim Messina will continue."
And on Thursday and Friday, the Romney campaign plans to hold 24 "Strengthening The Middle Class" events in 13 states -- Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, Florida, and Colorado.
And the Republican National Committee is out with a new research piece this morning accusing the White House of "coordinat[ing] with lobbyists in secret to pass Obamacare."