The House has subpoenaed documents from the White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to determine if the White House has been using government resources to boost Democratic campaigns, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa announced late Friday.
The White House previously rejected a committee demand for documents and for White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach Director David Simas to testify.
At issue is the reopening of the White House political office and whether officials have violated the Hatch Act, a law limits certain political activities of federal employees to ensure that official government business is separate from partisan political activity.
Questions over the use of taxpayer-funded resources for political purposes is not unique to the White House office. The Office of Special Counsel is currently investigating former Obama Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and has cited former Obama Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for violating the Hatch Act.
Issa wrote in a letter to McDonough Friday that the committee hoped to avoid a subpoena and sought to make a compromise in a July 28 meeting between White House staff and committee staff.
“My staff made a number of proposals that would allow the committee to get the information we need,” Issa wrote. “For instance, to accommodate the White House’s stated concerns about having Mr. Simas testify publicly, my staff proposed that the committee question Mr. Simas in a deposition setting.”
He further said that the committee was willing to narrow the scope to avoid including any documents that could be protected under presidential privilege.
“The White House has not produced any additional documents, nor has the White House stated if or when the Committee will hear from Mr. Simas,” Issa wrote. “In short, the accommodations process, which the White House itself characterized as constructive, has netted the committee absolutely nothing.”
The subpoena requires that the White House provide documents about the opening of the political office, documents about travel costs – including specific trips taken by President Barack Obama to Minnesota and Colorado, and other matters.
The committee voted in July for a resolution to reject a White House assertion of “absolute immunity” in providing information on the political office.
A predecessor of the office was set up by President George W. Bush, known as the Office of Political Affairs, but it was closed by Obama in 2011. The White House reinstated the office in January for what the New York Times described as “defending Democratic control of the Senate and taking back the House from Republicans” and to “focus attention on candidate needs, including fund-raising.”
Addressing the matter last month, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “In responding to questions from reporters and Congress, we’ve explained that the office operates in full compliance with the Hatch Act.”