Dems want GOP chairman to subpoena State Department over cyber docs

Dems want GOP chairman to subpoena State Department over cyber docs
© Greg Nash

Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are urging its Republican chairman to subpoena the State Department for documents related to former Secretary Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonStumbling US diplomacy flattens Washington's influence curve Trump lashes out over Kelly criticism: 'He misses the action' Timeline: Trump and Romney's rocky relationship MORE’s move to close an office responsible for advancing U.S. interests in cyberspace.

The letter, sent Thursday to Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdySunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for another week fighting the coronavirus, seek to curb fallout GOP lawmaker shows off AR-15 in office, challenges Biden to 'come and take it' Sunday shows preview: 2020 Democrats jockey for top spot ahead of Nevada caucuses MORE (R-S.C.), says the State Department has not provided the necessary documents stemming from a bipartisan request almost a year ago after Tillerson disclosed to Congress his broader plan to reorganize the department.

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“We are writing to request that you issue a subpoena to compel the Department of State to produce documents it is withholding in response to a bipartisan request we made last fall relating to the Department’s effort to shutter the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues,” Reps. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsMaryland postpones primary over coronavirus fears Maryland governor: 'Simply not enough supplies' on hand to tackle coronavirus Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges MORE (Md.), the top Democrat on the committee, and Robin KellyRobin Lynne KellyBlack, Latino communities suffering disproportionately from coronavirus, statistics show Maryland Legislative Black Caucus pushes for state to release racial breakdown of coronavirus impact Illinois governor endorses Biden one day before primary MORE (D-Ill.) wrote in the letter.

The lawmakers said the bipartisan letter was sent in September and that it asked State Department officials to produce documents relating to how it planned to reassign the duties of the cyber office, in addition to briefing the committee on the office’s closure.

Officials briefed committee members in November and sent two tranches of documents on Nov. 1 and Dec. 11, according to the letter. Still, Democrats described those efforts as an insufficient response to their initial request.

“The Department has not produced a single document in 2018 in response to our request,” Cummings and Kelly wrote, arguing that the dearth of documents has prevented lawmakers from understanding “the basis of the Department’s decision to shutter” the office and from “planning for the reorganization of these functions.”

Now, they want Gowdy to subpoena the State Department.

Tillerson’s decision last year to close the cyber office was met with bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill, with the House passing a bill in January that would effectively restore the office.

The cyber coordinator’s responsibilities were folded into State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, where Rob Strayer is spearheading efforts to engage with U.S. allies and international partners on cybersecurity.

In response to criticism, Tillerson in February floated the idea of creating an Office of Cyberspace and the Digital Economy at the department. Shortly after, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Overnight Health Care: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths could be lower than first projected | House panel warns federal stockpile of medical supplies depleted | Mnuchin, Schumer in talks over relief deal Trump says he'll look into small business loan program restricting casinos MORE replaced Tillerson with Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoGOP Rep calls for US to bring international case against China over coronavirus Belarus's risky coronavirus strategy House Republicans threaten pushback on Saudi Arabia amid oil market slump MORE as the nation's top diplomat.

In June, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a modified version of the House bill that would establish an Office of Cyberspace and the Digital Economy. The department has been “working closely with Congress on these issues and will continue to do so,” an official told The Hill at the time.

Pompeo, who took over at the State Department in late April, has said broadly that he plans to make cybersecurity a top priority. He sent a series of recommendations to Trump in May on how to pursue diplomatic efforts on cybersecurity, as required by an executive order signed by the president last year.

On Friday, a State Department spokesperson said Pompeo "is reviewing all proposed changes to the Department in order to meet U.S. foreign policy imperatives."

"Cyberspace policy affects almost every aspect of modern American life and it is a critical foreign policy imperative," the spokesperson said. "Given that nearly all cyber threats have an international nexus, the State Department plays an essential role in protecting Americans from cyber threats through diplomatic outreach and engagement."

This post was updated on Aug. 10 at 1:32 p.m. to reflect comment from the State Department.