Rep. Masha W. Blackburn (R.-Tenn.) met with her constituent Gibson Guitar CEO Henry E. Juszkiewicz in her Capitol Hill office Sept. 9, shortly before the two attended the president’s address to Congress on jobs and the economy. Juszkiewicz’s company was the subject of a Aug. 24 by federal agents that Blackburn said raises many unanswered questions.
The Tennessee congresswoman, in whose district many Gibson Guitar workers live, co-signed a Sept. 8 letter to three federal agencies that raided Gibson Aug. 24 demanding status on the government’s investigation.
“Having armed federal agents raid an iconic American company is no way to inspire economic certainty and spur job creation,” said Rep. Marsha W. Blackburn (R.-Tenn.), the vice-chairman of the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade sub-committee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The letter is part of Blackburn’s struggle to figure out why the administration is going after Gibson in such a heavy-handed manner, when there is significant question whether a crime has been committed, she said.
In 2008, the Lacey Act of 1900, which forbids the importation of items into the United States that are not approved for export by the country of origin, was amended to specifically focus federal law enforcement on imported woods.
An affidavit filed with the search warrant request, referred to the illegal importation of wood from India, which the letter also addresses: “The source country at issue, however, has no problem with Gibson’s actions. The deputy director general of foreign trade for India has stated that India would allow the export.”
The letter also raises the idea that Gibson, which has added 600 new jobs during the current recession, is the victim the government selective enforcement, in effect picking winners and losers, based on the fact that Gibson has imported the same wood without incident for the last 17 years, as have several of its competitors, who have not been raided by federal agents.
“We need to cut back some of the out-of-control regulations and hold the Obama administration accountable for selectively enforcing rules that are hindering job growth and killing small businesses,” the congresswoman said.
The letter instructs Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder, Interior Secretary Kenneth L. “Ken” Salazar and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel M. Ashe to brief members of the committee’s staff before Sept. 16. In addition to Blackburn, the letter was also signed by Rep. Frederick S. Upton (R.-Mich.), the committee chairman and Rep. Clifford B. “Cliff” Stearns (R.-Fla.), the Oversight and Investigations sub-committee and Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R.-Calif.), the chairman of the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade sub-committee.
“We want some answers,” said Blackburn, who invited Gibson CEO Henry E. Juszkiewicz to attend the president’s Sept. 8 address to Congress on jobs and the economy.
“When the President last night said that he wanted more products around the world stamped ‘Made in America’, I said—what about Gibson Guitar?” she asked.
In an exclusive HUMAN EVENTS interview in Blackburn’s office shortly before leaving to go to his seat in the Speaker’s box in the House Gallery, Juszkiewicz said federal authorities have not communicated with him about his situation.
“They need to start talking to us. If there is a problem we would be happy to fix it. We’re not aware of one. Let’s get it past us, so we can get back to doing what we love to do, which is manufacture guitars and compete,” he said.
Juszkiewicz said if he ran into the president in the hall, he would try to reason with him. “We need to be sane about this particular issue and get it resolved.”
The CEO said beyond the legal issues, the raid has threatened his company’s very survival.
“No charges are filed and they grabbed a tremendous amount of inventory,” he said.
“Every guitar has a finger board. They took just about all our finger boards. Without finger boards we can’t build guitars,” he said. The federal agents from the Fish and Wildlife Service seized roughly $500,000 worth of critical wood. “The impact has been severe.”
While the guitar executive said he is scrambling to find replacement wood, he expects he will have to shut down operations in the next few weeks.