GOP threatens legal action against Interior officials over subpoenaed documents

The ongoing investigation concerns an administration report that suggested a panel of outside experts supported the drilling freeze, though they actually had not. An inspector general (IG) probe concluded the White House had not intentionally misled anyone, but Republicans have questioned the impartiality of that report.

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said the failure of Neal Kemkar, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s special assistant, to provide documents might violate congressional subpoena powers. Those subpoenas require government officials to comply with congressional investigations even if a superior orders them to do otherwise.

Kemkar during the Thursday hearing said Interior’s Office of the Solicitor General “directed” him not to disclose some requested files because he was not authorized, drawing concern from McClintock.

“You have been subpoenaed to produce them, you have refused to produce them based on the directions of a superior,” McClintock told Kemkar and Mary Katherine Ishee, deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to the assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management.

“I believe the House should proceed to hold Mr. Kemkar and Ms. Ishee in contempt and pursue what legal sanctions there are available to us,” McClintock said.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the committee chairman, said McClintock’s suggestion is a course of action the committee would consider, noting the “great deal of frustration” the committee has had getting documents from the administration.

“We will go to where we need to go to in order to get the information that we are asking for, and that certainly will be part of where that process would go because that is given to us under the authority of the rules of the House,” Hastings said. “And I intend to go as far as we need in order to get that information.”

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the committee’s top Democrat, said the committee should bring Salazar in for a hearing rather than continue to question lower-level Interior officials.

“Bring in Sec. Salazar. Just let him sit here,” Markey said. “You refuse to even have the secretary come.”

Hastings said leadership had asked Salazar to testify at a different hearing — on coal — but that Salazar had declined.