The White House again rejected a subpoena for a presidential advisor on campaign activities to appear before Congress regarding an investigation into improper use of federal funds for campaign purposes, so the House is prepared to take the next step, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said.
Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he wanted to avert a constitutional showdown over the testimony of David Simas, the director of the White House Office of Political Strategy & Outreach. But he said he wanted answers from Simas regarding the violation of the Hatch Act by two former Obama cabinet secretaries, and believes the White House is being willfully disobedient of a lawfully issued subpoena.
“I urge Mr. Simas to appear, but the White House has offered us no indication that it intends to accept our offer,” Issa said in a statement. “What are they afraid of? The director of the political office in the Bush administration testified before this committee, we know that there have been high-level Hatch Act violations under President Obama, and a federal judge has already rejected claims that an official like Mr. Simas enjoys a special immunity above and beyond Executive privilege.”
The Hatch Act is a law that restricts certain political activities of federal officials while on taxpayer time to ensure that government business is separtate from partisan political activity.
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have both been accused of violating the law to promote President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. The violations occurred before Simas took on his role in the White House.
After the political office had been closed under Obama in 2011, it was reopened in January this year, and Simas was put in charge.
The proposed committee resolution says: “Whereas, in a July 18, 2014 letter, the Committee informed White House Counsel, that his contention that Mr. Simas need not appear or testify before the Committee, despite having been compelled to do so by a lawfully issued subpoena, is contrary to well-established law and amounts to contumacious conduct. … Resolved, That the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform rejects the claim made by the White House that Mr. Simas is immune from congressional compulsion to testify on matters relating to his official duties.”
White House Counsel Neil Eggleston rejected a request, then rejected a subpoena for Simas to appear before the committee. Each time Eggleston asserted that Simas had immunity because he was a presidential advisor that was not confirmed by the Senate and thus could not be compelled to testify.
“Your rush to subpoena Mr. Simas illustrates the committee’s refusal to pursue its oversight function in a responsible and deliberate manner. Moreover, the committee has fallen far short of justifying its request than an immediate presidential advisor testify at a hearing,” Eggleston said in a letter to Issa Thursday.
Issa points out that the George W. Bush administration made a similar contention to prevent then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers from testifying to a Democratic Congress and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in a 2008 opinion rejected the claim of executive immunity.
“I expect our committee will reject President Obama’s assertion that his White House should be afforded special treatment that House Democrats did not extend to Republican administrations when they were in the majority,” Issa said.
But Eggleston said that doesn’t apply in this case.
“I was advised by the Department of Justice that, after thoroughly considering the District Court’s reasoning in Miers, the department continues to believe that the executive branch’s longstanding position on immunity of immediate presidential advisors applies in the circumstances here and is correct as a matter of constitutional law,” Eggleston said in the letter to Issa Thursday.
Follow Fred Lucas (@FredVLucas3) on Twitter