WH director won't testify before Issa panel
By Justin Sink - 07/15/14 07:28 PM EDT
White House political director David Simas will not appear before the House Oversight Committee to testify Wednesday, despite a subpoena from Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the White House said Tuesday.
In a letter to Issa on Tuesday, White House counsel Neil Eggleston said the California congressman had "made no effort to justify your extraordinary demand that one of the president's immediate advisers testify at a committee hearing."
In the letter, the White House argues Simas is "immune from congressional compulsion to testify on matters relating to his official duties" because doing so would threaten "longstanding interests of the Executive Branch in preserving the president's independence and autonomy."
In a statement issued Tuesday night, Issa said he would proceed with the hearing to find out whether “President Obama actually intends to assert executive privilege.”
The California Republican said a federal court had “already rejected” the notion senior presidential advisers were exempt from congressional subpoena. He pointed to a 2008 ruling in which a federal court ruled that Bush advisers Harriet Miers and Josh Bolton must obey congressional subpoenas.
“Flouting a federal judge’s opinion about our system of checks and balances is yet another attack on our Nation’s Constitution by this President,” Issa said.
“Assertions that this Administration’s taxpayer-funded political efforts should be above Congressional oversight are absurd,” he added.
Issa is investigating the relaunch of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach earlier this year. The Republican lawmaker says he's concerned the White House has used staffers for partisan campaign activities, which are prohibited under the Hatch Act.
But Issa has not produced evidence of a specific instance of the White House violating the law, something Eggleston repeatedly emphasized in his letter.
"Your hasty decision to subpoena Mr. Simas is all the more unfounded because the Committee has been unable to point to any indication" the White House broke the law, Eggleston wrote.
Earlier this week, the White House had asked Issa to remove the subpoena, and offered a staff-level briefing on the political office for Issa's investigators.
But Issa said he would not withdraw the subpoena on Tuesday, following a 75-minute gathering between administration officials and committee staff.
“The committee has outstanding questions for Mr. Simas, who did not take part in the briefing, and it is necessary for him to appear at tomorrow’s hearing,” Issa said in a letter to the White House.
“I believe his on-the-record testimony will provide valuable insight into White House efforts to ensure appropriate use of taxpayer funds,” Issa continued.
In his letter, Eggleston said his staff briefed Issa's for 75 minutes and "stayed until the Committee staff determined they had completed their questioning — responding to over forty questions in total."
He also dismissed specific concerns raised by Issa in his letter — including whether the White House press shop pursued corrections to news articles and what officials were involved in the decision to reopen the office — as irrelevant to the question of Hatch Act compliance.
It's not clear what Issa's reaction to the rebuke will be.
In 2012, the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over his refusal to turn over documents tied to the Fast and Furious gun running program.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest dismissed Issa’s probe last Friday, stating that the political office “operates in full compliance with the Hatch Act, and to date there is not even any suggestion or let alone evidence that we've deviated from the requirements of the Hatch Act.”
Earlier Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest dismissed Issa’s probe last Friday, stating that the political office “operates in full compliance with the Hatch Act, and to date there is not even any suggestion or let alone evidence that we've deviated from the requirements of the Hatch Act.”
This story was updated at 10:08 p.m.