AOC alleges ‘rank partisanship’ in Republican COVID fraud investigation, Comer responds

“Squad” leader Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on Wednesday questioned the motives of Republicans leading a House Oversight Committee investigation into waste, fraud and abuse in COVID-19 relief programs. 

During a hearing on federal pandemic spending, Ocasio-Cortez accused the GOP majority on the committee of “rank partisanship” because Chairman Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., had sent letters to California, New York and Pennsylvania demanding information tracking fraud and improper payments in the unemployment insurance programs – but not Republican-controlled states where rampant fraud has been reported. 

Citing a report from the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, Ocasio-Cortez said the state of Arizona paid $1.6 billion in unemployment benefits to individuals with stolen identities and Louisiana dispersed more than $1 million to individuals after they died. In Comer’s home state of Kentucky, she pointed out, state employees had applied for unemployment benefits while still employed by the state and were able to access the state’s information management system and lift holds on their own accounts. 

“None of these states have been put under investigation by this committee,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I find it very interesting because as was stated at the beginning, the bipartisan nature of oversight is what gives it its power.” 

BILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN COVID AID FRAUD TO BE FOCUS OF HOUSE HEARING

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez arrives for a meeting of the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Jan. 31, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images / Getty Images)

She called Comer’s methods “highly questionable” and said Democrats are ready to perform oversight, even if doing so requires standing up to their own party. 

“But I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the majority would send these three letters just to these three states. That leaves us with no other conclusion that [sic] there needs to be some rank partisanship in this investigation,” she asserted. 

Her accusation drew a response from Comer, who said he would “love” to join her in a joint investigation of the Kentucky unemployment benefits program. 

“I would love to work with you on that or any of the 50 states, because I believe it’s a problem in all 50 states, especially Kentucky. You’re exactly right,” he said. 

ERNST CALLS OUT FEDERAL FRAUDSTERS WHO TOOK COVID-19 UNEMPLOYMENT WHILE GETTING PAYCHECKS FROM TAXPAYERS

Rep. James Comer (R-KY)

Rep. James Comer, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, delivers remarks during a hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Feb. 1, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images / Getty Images)

Wednesday’s hearing, the first Oversight hearing of this year, focused on the loss of taxpayer dollars to fraud in the federal government’s $5 trillion in spending on COVID-19 pandemic relief programs.

In his opening remarks, Comer called rampant waste, fraud and abuse in the government’s pandemic response stimulus, small business loan, and unemployment insurance programs “the greatest theft of American taxpayer dollars in history,” and said the committee will hold “many more hearings on this important issue.” 

Lawmakers heard expert testimony from Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who was tapped to chair the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), an oversight body established by Congress to review pandemic relief spending, as well as David Smith, the assistant director of the Secret Service’s Office of Investigations, and Gene Dodaro, the comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

FLORIDA MAN WHO BOUGHT MANSION, MASERATI USING COVID FUNDS SENTENCED TO PRISON

U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, Michael Horowitz, chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, and David Smith, assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service's Office of Investigations, are sworn in during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on February 01, 2023 in Washington, DC

Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, Michael Horowitz, chair of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, and David Smith, assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service’s Office of Investigations, are sworn in during a House Oversight Committee hea (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images / Getty Images)

Horowitz told lawmakers that PRAC data scientists had identified the use of more than 69,000 questionable Social Security numbers to secure $5.4 billion in pandemic relief loans, plus an additional 175,000 dubious numbers used in applications that weren’t approved.

Smith said the Secret Service’s Cyber Fraud Task Forces have assisted in securing about $3 billion in fraudulent unemployment benefits and seized more than $1 billion in Economic Injury Disaster Loan funding from criminals. 

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Dodaro testified that there was at least $4.3 billion in unemployment insurance fraud during the pandemic, but that as much as $163 billion in pandemic unemployment benefits “could have been paid improperly.” 

As of Jan. 13, 2023, at least 779 individuals or entities have pleaded guilty to, or been convicted of, charges stemming from efforts to defraud federal COVID-19 relief programs, per Dodaro’s prepared documents for the hearing.

FOX Business’ Eric Revell contributed to this report.

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