WASHINGTON — The White House is defying a congressional subpoena by keeping a top political aide to President Barack Obama from testifying at a hearing Wednesday, setting up a potential new legal battle in this midterm election year.
The White House argued that Obama adviser David Simas is immune from the "extraordinary demand" of being forced to testify before the House Oversight Committee as part of its investigation into the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, which he directs.
White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a letter Tuesday night to Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., that the Simas subpoena "threatens longstanding interests of the executive branch in preserving the president's independence and autonomy, as well as his ability to obtain candid advice and counsel to aid him in the discharge of his duties."
The announcement came after White House lawyers spent an hour and 15 minutes Tuesday briefing the committee's staff behind closed doors on the political office's efforts to comply with federal law. But Issa said afterward that the committee still has questions he wants Simas to answer publicly.
"Mr. Simas is still under subpoena and is expected to appear at tomorrow's hearing," Issa wrote to Eggleston.
Administrations of both parties have maintained in-house political shops at the White House. A 2011 report by the independent Office of Special Counsel criticized a longstanding practice by both parties of using the political office for systematic, campaign-related activity.
Obama closed the White House Office of Political Affairs in 2011 but reinstated a slimmed-down version under the new name earlier this year. Issa has been demanding that the White House turn over all documents relating to the reopening of the office.
Democrats argue Issa has no evidence of any wrongdoing. "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," said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee's ranking Democrat.
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