WASHINGTON—Sen. Bill Nelson on Tuesday called for the resignation of NASA's top lawyer because he destroyed recordings of a meeting so they wouldn't become public.
According to Nelson, D-Fla., the meeting involved NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, Inspector General Robert Cobb and his staff.
NASA General Counsel Mike Wholley, Nelson said, told Senate aides last week that he destroyed a tape of that meeting so it wouldn't become public under the Freedom of Information Act.
Nelson, who previously called for Cobb's ouster after an investigation into his conduct by a government integrity committee, has said Cobb created the appearance that he neglected his watchdog role and "engaged in abuse of authority."
"It appears that the firewall that should exist between NASA management and the NASA [inspector general] has been dismantled, leaving a dysfunctional relationship that both precludes effective oversight by the [inspector general] and could pose a conflict of interest for NASA management . . .," Nelson said in a letter to Griffin.
Griffin could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., chairman of the House Science Committee, stopped short of calling for Wholley's resignation but vowed to investigate.
"I was shocked to learn that the general counsel of NASA had personally destroyed government records," Gordon said. "These records were particularly sensitive because they memorialized the unprecedented event of an agency head addressing the employees of his inspector-general's office. I must question why they were destroyed unless they recorded an improper communication. We intend to pursue this matter fully to determine what exactly happened at this meeting."
Nelson, chairman of the Senate Commerce Space Committee, complained about the latest development in a letter to Griffin.
"My concerns about the effectiveness of the NASA Inspector General and his relationship with senior NASA management are growing, and I am increasingly convinced that this situation is an unnecessary distraction from NASA's real challenges," Nelson said.