White House asks Issa to drop subpoena

Getty Images

The White House on Monday asked House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to drop a subpoena demanding the director of the president's political office appear before his committee.

On Friday, Issa sent a letter insisting David Simas, the head of the White House Office of Political Strategy, testify this week as part of an investigation into whether the administration is using taxpayer dollars for political purposes.

ADVERTISEMENT
The California Republican said the hearing would "examine abuses of taxpayer funds for political gain and the level of White House commitment to preventing them.”

But, in a letter to Issa on Monday, White House counsel Neil Eggleston called the demand "surprising," citing White House offers to brief Issa's staffers on their political office and "the fact that you have not pointed to any evidence" the office violated federal law.

"Moreover, your subpoena, which directs Mr. Simas to appear at a public hearing three business days after it was issued, unnecessarily constrains our ability to work together by limiting the time we have to explore mutually-agreeable ways to provide you with the information you seek," Eggleston added.

Eggleston said administration officials would commit to briefing Issa's staff on Tuesday in an attempt to satisfy "any remaining questions" the chairman might have about how the political office is complying with the Hatch Act, which restricts campaign activities by federal employees.

A spokesman for Issa said that despite the request, the subpoena for Simas "remains in effect."

"The White House has had multiple opportunities to work with Congress to date, and has neglected to do so," said Issa spokeswoman Becca Watkins. "Chairman Issa has allowed that if the White House provided the requested information to the Committee he would reconsider, but at present Mr. Simas is still expected to appear at Wednesday’s hearing."

The White House has dismissed Issa's investigation, with press secretary Josh Earnest saying Friday the political office "operates in full compliance with the Hatch Act, and to date there is not even any suggestion or let alone evidence that we've deviated from the requirements of the Hatch Act."

"I just want to remind you and everyone else that's covering this that there is not even a shred of evidence to indicate any cause for concern," Earnest added.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, issued a press release slamming Issa for a engaging in a unilateral "subpoena binge."

“Issuing a congressional subpoena to a senior advisor to the President is not an action to be taken unilaterally, with no debate, and without adequate foundation," Cummings said in a letter to Issa.

"In the case of Mr. Simas, you have not demonstrated any valid justification for this extreme action,” he continued. “As a result, it appears that this subpoena is the latest in a string of misguided and increasingly desperate efforts to retain the spotlight while lobbing unsubstantiated attacks against the White House.”

Democratic sources also argued that Issa had previously defended the George W. Bush political office.

It's clear Issa believes he can make political hay out of the White House office, which was closed in 2011 ahead of President Obama's reelection campaign and opened again earlier this year, even without a specific allegation.

In March, Issa demanded White House chief of staff Denis McDonough turn over all internal documents and communications related to the reopening of the office.

A month earlier, Issa accused the White House of not properly vetting the bid to reopen the office after the Office of the Special Counsel, an independent agency tasked with policing federal employees' political activities, told him that they had not been consulted about the move. 

Issa has also repeatedly noted that during the Bush administration, the agency found that officials in the White House violated federal laws prohibiting political activities. 

Bush aides worked with the Republican National Committee to develop a "target list" of GOP candidates in tight congressional races, encouraging political appointees to appear at events, and tracking fundraising efforts, in violation of the Hatch Act. 

7-14-14 Eggleston to Issa.docx