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Updated 12:27 p.m. | Top White House political adviser David Simas refused again Friday to honor a congressional subpoena, prompting Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to vote to rebuke the administration.
The Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted 19-14 to reject the White House’s claim that Simas has absolute immunity from a subpoena from Congress.
Republicans said they were standing up for the principle that no one is above the law, and Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa quoted a long list of Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who have backed Congress’ right to subpoena top administration officials.
Democrats, led by ranking member Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, said they strongly disagree with the White House’s claim of absolute immunity but also strongly disagree with Issa’s push to press the issue, warning it could hurt the institution if they take a case to court.
The White House informed Issa at 7:30 a.m. Friday that Simas would not appear, Issa said. The absence was “not excused,” the California Republican added.
White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston asked Issa to withdraw the subpoena to discuss his late Thursday offer for Simas to give a deposition instead of subpoenaed testimony.
Issa refused to do so.
“We have an absolute right and obligation” to investigate the new White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, he said. Full story
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa is offering to allow top White House political adviser David Simas to testify via deposition instead of in a congressional hearing.
With Issa planning a vote Friday to reject the administration’s claim of absolute immunity from congressional subpoena for Simas if he again fails to show up to honor the subpoena, Issa’s latest offer loosely tracks previous subpoena fights between House Democrats and the George W. Bush administration.
“The Committee would be willing to postpone tomorrow’s proceeding if the White House makes the same commitments to cooperate as the Bush Administration did previously,” Issa said in a letter Thursday to White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston.
In addition to the deposition, the White House must also commit to releasing internal documents Issa has sought about the creation of the political strategy office Simas has headed since January, and to answering subsequent questions in writing, Issa wrote. Issa said his offer must be accepted Thursday.
Issa’s letter came after Eggleston wrote him earlier Thursday, complaining that Issa had failed to make any specific allegation of wrongdoing, reasserting the White House’s claim of immunity and offering to cooperate further on providing information about the office — but not Simas.
Eggleston also noted that previous investigative efforts did not require enforcement of subpoenas of the president’s top advisers to testify at a public hearing.
That triggered Issa’s latest offer.
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa is giving the White House one more chance to comply with the subpoena of Obama’s top political adviser, David Simas.
The California Republican said the White House is trying to create a new precedent of immunity for presidential advisers already rejected by the courts — although not yet ruled on by the Supreme Court.
“He is not immune,” Issa said in his letter to White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston.
Issa is proposing Simas testify at 9 a.m. on July 25. Full story
Updated 6:19 p.m. | White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest accused House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa of engaging in “shenanigans” by subpoenaing top White House political adviser David Simas.
“This is I think more of the kind of shenanigans that Chairman Issa has been engaged in, and I think has undermined the credibility of his committee, unfortunately,” Earnest said. “Throwing out subpoenas like candy on Halloween has not served the functioning of that committee very well. It also has, I think, understandably caused a lot of people to — to tune him out. And I think that’s probably a source of some frustration to him.”
Earnest said the administration had answered the questions Issa’s staff posed in a briefing on Tuesday on why the White House believes the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach complies with the Hatch Act limiting the political activity of civil servants.
“Unfortunately, the chairman himself didn’t actually show up. … So that was something we certainly were disappointed by,” Earnest said. Full story
Updated 4:44 p.m. | House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa gaveled open Wednesday morning’s hearing on the White House’s new political office without what would have been his star witness — top Obama political adviser David Simas.
The California Republican called a letter from White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston asserting Simas is immune to subpoenas as a top White House aide “deeply disturbing.” Full story
Updated 8:49 p.m. | The White House is asserting immunity for top political adviser David Simas in defiance of a subpoena from House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa.
In a letter from White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston, the White House asserted Congress does not have the power to compel Simas to testify, in a showdown between two of the three branches of government.
Eggleston cited a new legal opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and past precedent of presidents asserting immunity for their top advisers from congressional subpoena.
“The Executive Branch’s longstanding position, reaffirmed by numerous Administrations of both political parties, is that the President’s immediate advisers are absolutely immune from the congressional testimonial process,” the OLC wrote. “This immunity is rooted in the constitutional separation of powers, and in the immunity of the President himself from congressional compulsion to testify.”
The OLC cited precedents going back to Presidents Harry Truman and Richard Nixon of asserting executive privilege against testimony. And bother the OLC and Eggleston said Issa had not shown why, exactly, he needed Simas to testify and what questions, exactly, he needed to answer.
The feud has been brewing for months over the new political strategy office headed by Simas, culminating in a lengthy staff briefing today that Issa said failed to answer all of his questions.
Simas is director of the remade Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, which the White House contends complies with the Hatch Act limiting the political activities of civil servants.
But Issa isn’t convinced.
“The Clinton White House, Bush White House, and other administrations before them have all faced congressional oversight of political activity supported by taxpayer funds,” Issa wrote in a letter to Eggleston earlier Tuesday. “Under this Administration, like previous Administrations, members of President Obama’s cabinet have committed violations of the Hatch Act, which draws a line between campaign and official business.” Full story