White House defies Issa subpoena

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 16, 2014 

The White House refused to have a top political adviser to President Barack Obama testify before Congress on Wednesday, saying it would threaten presidential independence.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had subpoenaed David Simas to appear at 10 a.m. for a hearing questioning the propriety of Simas’s Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, housed at the White House.

But after briefing congressional staff about the parameters of the office, the White House said Tuesday night it wouldn’t comply with the request from commitee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa for Simas to testify.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest insisted Wednesday there was not a “single shred of evidence” to point to wrongdoing and accused Issa of “throwing out subpoenas like candy on Halloween.

“This is more of the kind of shenanigans that Chairman Issa has been engaged in, and I think has undermined the credibility of his committee, “ Earnest said, adding it’s not “served the functioning of that committee very well. It also has, I think, understandably caused a lot of people to tune him out. And I think that's probably a source of some frustration to him.”

In a letter to Issa, R-Calif., White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote that Simas is "immune from congressional compulsion to testify on matters relating to his official duties" because it “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."

Issa, who has said the committee is investigating whether the office was improperly used to raise campaign dollars and support candidates, called Simas’s testimony “critically important” and said he would “attempt to clarify whether or not President Obama intends to invoke Executive Privilege before considering our next course of action.”

The White House in January began to revamp its political arm, naming Simas, as director. The move came amid Democratic complaints that the White House wasn’t doing enough to help them in the midterms.

Ranking Democrat Elijiah Cummings, D-Maryland, accused Issa of compelling Simas to testify without valid justification.

“We do not simply haul in one of the president’s top advisors at will,” Cummings said. “There must be a valid reason, a predicate, a justification, some evidence that this official engaged in some type of inappropriate activity. That foundation simply does not exist here.”

Attorneys with the White House Counsel’s office offered a briefing for committee staff on its compliance with the federal Hatch Act, which generally prohibits campaigning using government offices, Cummings said.

Issa responded by releasing an audio recording of what he said then-United States Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis “illegally soliciting funds” for Obama’s re-election campaign in violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits political activity on official time.

Earnest refused to comment on the recording, saying it has been under investigation since last January.

But he said administration employees receive “clear guidance” to follow the “both the spirit and letter of the Hatch Act.

“The Hatch Act does not allow government officials to solicit funds for political purposes,” Earnest said. “That’s simply a matter of law. And every member of this administration has been directed to follow that law.”

Email: lclark@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @lesleyclark.

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