Chaffetz seeks to hold Obama official in contempt over water rule

Chaffetz seeks to hold Obama official in contempt over water rule
© Haiyun Jiang

Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzChaffetz doubles down on request for FBI memos Chaffetz on leaving Congress: 'At some point, you've got to get off this crazy train' Feinstein: Comey memos 'going to be turned over' MORE (R-Utah) wants to hold a high-ranking Obama administration official in contempt of Congress over his response to an investigation into a contentious water pollution rule.

He is accusing Howard Shelanski, head of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), of withholding documents related to OIRA’s involvement in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Rule.

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Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, subpoenaed Shelanski in July 2015 for a wide range of documents regarding the rule, four months after Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) first formally requested the information at a subcommittee hearing.

While Shelanski has produced thousands of pages of requested documents, he still hasn’t handed over everything Chaffetz has sought.

video the committee released Wednesday charges that “eleven months later, OIRA has failed to produce all of the requested documents.”

In a resolution introduced Wednesday night, Chaffetz said Shelanski’s “unwillingness and inability to work in good faith to comply with the subpoena interfered with the committee’s investigation” into the regulation issued last year, and he and his staff “are withholding key documents from the committee — the volume of which is unknown except to OIRA, because Mr. Shelanski and his staff refused to provide basic information about the universe of responsive documents.”

The contempt motion is the latest in a string of attempts by Republicans to punish executive branch officials for not cooperating.

The GOP-led House voted to hold then-Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderVoting advocates notch win at Supreme Court Flynn refusal sets up potential subpoena showdown House votes to expand death penalty for police killings MORE in contempt in 2012, and did the same for former IRS official Lois Lerner in 2014. Chaffetz’ committee voted Wednesday to censure IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

If the House approves the Shelanski resolution, it would trigger a request to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, Channing Phillips, that Shelanski be prosecuted. Neither Holder nor Lerner was punished as a result of their contempt votes.

The Oversight Committee has long been investigating the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) development of the water rule, also known as “waters of the United States.” It was finalized last year, asserting federal control over small waterways like wetlands and headwaters for pollution control purposes.

Republicans charge that the rule is overly broad and gives the federal government power over too much state and private property. The EPA and Democrats have pushed back, saying it is necessary to protect important waterways that provide drinking water, recreation and other major uses.

The regulation is currently on hold and the EPA cannot enforce it while the federal courts consider a series of lawsuits seeking to overturn it.

The committee will vote on the contempt proposal June 23 and vote on whether to send it to the full House.