Published: 13:17 EDT, 16 July 2014 | Updated: 14:39 EDT, 16 July 2014>
The White House refused to comply today with a subpoena issued by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee demanding that the president's official political adviser testify before Congress.
The president's Director of the Office of Political Strategy & Outreach, David Simas, was scheduled to appear before the Oversight committee today to state for the record that his work does not violate a federal law that bans most executive branch employees from engaging in political activity.
But White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston sent a letter to the committee last night saying Congress doesn't have the authority to require the president's chief advisers to give testimony.
House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa opted to allow the hearing to start today without Simas, arguing in his opening statement that the committee has a 'legal obligation' to make sure that taxpayer dollars are not being spent on illegal activity.
The White House says that the president's official political adviser David Simas, pictured here to the right of President Barack Obama in 2010, is immune from congressional subpenas
The White House's Office of Political Affairs has been under scrutiny since Democrats controlled Congress and Republicans controlled the White House during the tenure of George W. Bush.
President Barack Obama kept the office open through the 2010 midterm congressional elections but closed it shortly afterward amid concerns that the office's work involved partisan political activity.
Earlier this year the White House reopened the office ahead of the upcoming midterm elections under a slightly different name, raising anew suspicions among Republican legislators that the office may be engaging in activity that violates federal law.
A 1939 law called the Hatch Act bars executive branch employees, excluding the president, vice president and a handful of other officials, from conducting political activity on federal property and from soliciting political contributions.
So far, Obama's chief political adviser hasn't done anything to incite a congressional investigation into his work other than holding the political affairs position.
However, Issa said today that his committee does 'not and should not need a smoking gun' to look into whether taxpayer dollars are being spent improperly.
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Given that the committee's 'most key witness' in today's hearing 'has chosen to defy the committee's legal obligation and its subpoena,' the Republican lawmaker announced that he would recess the hearing until a future date after opening statements.
Issa could be waiting indefinitely for the hearing to restart if its predicated on Simas testifying.
In the letter informing the Oversight committee of Mr. Simas' intentions not to appear before the committee in an official capacity, White House Counsel cited a legal opinion from the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel stating that 'the President’s immediate advisers are absolutely immune from the congressional testimonial process.'
'This immunity is rooted in the constitutional separation of powers, and in the immunity of the President himself from congressional compulsion to testify,' the letter said, quoiting the Office of Legal Counsel.
In his remarks at this morning's hearing, Issa dismissed the Justice Department's opinion, claiming 'it is at odds with rulings from our judicial branch about checks and balances.'
Issa said his committee has had 'patience for months, and gave the White House extensive opportunities to explain concerns' through briefings and documents.
Mr. Simas' failure to show up to today's hearing makes the claim that the White House is doing 'everything right indefensible,' he said a few minutes later.
Prior to today, White House Counsel offered to sit down with Issa and answer questions about the reopening of the political office outside a congressional hearing if Issa withdrew his subpoena
'While I am hopeful that we can work together constructively to address your stated interests, your subpoena is not helpful to these efforts,' Eggleston told Issa in a letter on Monday.
'As you know, it has been the view of administrations from both political parties that summoning the President’s most senior advisors to provide public testimony raises significant separation of power concerns.'
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, right, and ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, left, are pictured here in March at an Oversight hearing having a fiery disagreement over the way Issa runs the committee. Cummings lambasted Issa again during a hearing today, saying he was undermining the committee by unilaterally issuing subpoenas
A Democrat with knowledge of the situation told Roll Call that Issa sent nine staffers to the White House yesterday who asked 45 questions over the course of an hour and fifteen minute meeting, and the sit down only concluded when Republicans had finished making inquiries.
Issa didn't attend the meeting, however, the source said.
'Guess who didn’t even bother to show-up? One guess. Correct, no Issa.'
But Simas didn't attend the meeting, either, prompting Issa to send Eggleston a letter yesterday afternoon restating his request for Simas to appear before the Oversight committee today.
'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 stated.
'I believe his on-the-record testimony will provide valuable insight into White House efforts to ensure appropriate use of taxpayer funds.'
The ranking Democrat on the Oversight committee, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, said in a statement yesterday that the White House briefing ought to have been enough for his Republican colleague, however.
'There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Mr. Simas or anyone on his staff did anything wrong,' he said, calling the White House briefing 'detailed and thorough.'
'There seems to be no reason to continue this ridiculous confrontation other than to manufacture false controversy as Chairman Issa’s tenure comes to an end,' he charged.
At today's hearing Cumming lit into Issa again, saying he 'strongly' supports the committee's authority to issue subpoenas 'when necessary,' but this is not one of those instances.
Witch hunts like the one Issa is undertaking 'undermines' and 'degrades' the Oversight committee, he said, and 'makes us weaker.'
Cummings repeated a previous complaint that Issa has handed out nearly 100 subpoenas since taking over the chairmanship in 2011, which is more than the combined total of the last three chairs.
'This is not about me. This is not about this committee This is about generations unborn,' he argued, urging Issa to 'change course.'
'When I raised concerns you did not take them seriously,' he said, referencing a letter he wrote to Issa on Friday asking him to take a committee vote before issuing a subpoena to Mr. Simas. 'You did not ask other members if you were nuts or if you were wrong.'
'I end by saying we are better,' Cummings said at the conclusion of his remarks. 'If we want to go far, let's go together. If we want to go fast, let's go alone.'
At a briefing with reporters this afternoon White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest piled on, assailing Issa for 'throwing out subpoenas like candy on Halloween.'
The White House spokesman said it's causing people to 'tune him out.'
Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2694594/White-House-defies-House-Oversight-Committee-subpoena.html1858