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Heard on the Hill: Why Was Mike Lee’s Meeting Nixed?

Here’s a little more on the dust-up between Sen. Mike Lee, FreedomWorks and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

On Thursday, the Utah Republican tried to convene a meeting where the 12-person Tea Party Debt Commission, sponsored by the conservative grass-roots organization FreedomWorks, could deliver its findings to Members of Congress.

The idea was to propose a deficit reduction plan from grass-roots conservatives to contrast with the plan (or lack of a plan) from the super committee.

To that end, the group tried real hard to make its event look official.

“There are two problems …” with that, wrote the Senate Rules and Administration Chief Clerk Lynden Armstrong in an email sent to Lee’s chief of staff an hour before the group was scheduled to meet. “[The group is] simulating a hearing which isn’t allowed and the Rules Committee has determined events of this nature are political and not allowed.”

The Senate rules state that “[o]utside groups are not permitted to use Senate space to conduct events intended to simulate Congressional hearings or legislative meetings.”

However, according to FreedomWorks, there is something fishy happening.

It seems Shaun Parkin, a longtime staffer for former Utah Sen. Bob Bennett (R ) and current Republican deputy staff director for the Senate committee, was one of the staffers seen in a YouTube clip trying to explain to Lee why the meeting was being shut down. Lee, of course, defeated Bennett in Utah’s Republican primary in 2010, and FreedomWorks spent a lot of time and resources making sure that would happen.

And so, FreedomWorks says, Parkin is not an independent voice from the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. He has a conflict of interest. “He worked for Bennett,” FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon said.

The committee has not commented on those allegations, and Lee’s office says it is “an interesting angle” but not one they are investigating.

A committee aide did tell HOH that “the nonpartisan staff and the Republican staff both suggested to Lee’s office that if they held the event as either a press conference or as a closed-press meeting, it would be within the rules and they could remain in the room.”

Lee’s staff adamantly disagrees.

“Nobody at the event approached my boss or my legislative director about changing the event,” Lee’s communications director, Brian Phillips, tells HOH. “Inquiries about making changes to the event were not returned on the day of the event.”

Anyway, Phillips says: “You don’t get to come in 45 minutes before the event starts and tell us to change the format of the event you have already approved.”

Lee’s office says it submitted an accurate explanation of the event weeks in advance.

“That explanation was ultimately approved,” Phillips says.

The final word? We’ll see.

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