House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is giving the White House's political director a “second chance” to appear before his panel, after the top aide defied a subpoena for his testimony earlier this week.
In a letter to the White House sent Friday, Issa said that his committee was “prepared to enforce its subpoena” against David Simas, the director of the White House political office.
The California Republican suggested that Simas should appear but then assert executive privilege on a question-by-question basis if there was a “legitimate concern” answering questions would “implicate matters protected by the presidential communications privilege.”
The White House said it was reviewing the letter, but criticized Issa for not showing up for a staff briefing where the White House contends it answered his questions.
"At this week’s hearing, the Director of the Office of Special Counsel submitted testimony indicating that the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach is operating in a manner consistent with the Hatch Act. Nothing in today’s letter from the Chairman or his previous three have produced any evidence – or even an allegation – to the contrary,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
The White House has said Simas is immune from testifying before the panel, with press secretary Josh Earnest describing the effort as “shenanigans” that had “undermined the credibility of his committee.”
“Throwing out subpoenas like candy on Halloween has not served the functioning of that committee very well,” Earnest said. “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.”
Issa said that if Simas did not appear, the Oversight Committee “will immediately convene a business meeting to vote on the validity” of the White House's claim of immunity. It is not clear what, if any, weight that would carry, although it is possible Issa could go to court in a bid to compel Simas's testimony.
The letter was the latest in a months-long effort by Issa to use the reopening of the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach to question whether the White House was misusing taxpayer funds for political purposes.
“The American people have a right to know if their tax dollars are being used for political activity,” Issa said at a hearing Wednesday, adding that Simas's testimony was “critically important” to his investigation into whether the political office had violated the Hatch Act, a law prohibiting executive branch employees from engaging in partisan campaign activity.
“It is deeply ironic that an administration claiming to be the most transparent ever has resisted oversight of its political office and offered less cooperation than its predecessors,” Issa said.
Democrats have maintained that Issa has not produced any evidence of wrongdoing within the political office, with ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) suggesting the subpoena was an “abuse of this very powerful authority” designed as “political theater.”
This story was updated at 5:38 p.m.