A senior White House adviser will decline a congressional demand to testify this week about controversial comments he made regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran.
In a letter to the House Oversight Committee, White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston said that the request “raises significant constitutional concerns rooted in the separation of powers.”
The appearance of White House aide Ben Rhodes, Eggleston added, “threatens the independence and autonomy of the president, as well as his ability to receive candid advice and counsel in the discharge of his constitutional duties.”
The letter, which was released by the Oversight Committee on Monday, confirmed that Rhodes would not appear during Tuesday morning’s hearing.
The White House’s decision threatens to prompt a subpoena from committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzCongress's latest hacking investigation should model its most recent Fox News Audio expands stable of podcasts by adding five new shows The myth of the conservative bestseller MORE (R-Utah), who has previously threatened to force Rhodes to testify about the agreement.
Rhodes sparked controversy in a New York Times Magazine piece where he derided the Washington press corps as naive and touted the administration's sell job on the Iran deal.
Rhodes, a 38-year-old former aspiring fiction writer, came under fire in recent days following his comments in a New York Times Magazine story suggesting that the Obama administration had misrepresented its motivations behind pursuing the nuclear accord. In the article, Rhodes appeared scornful of Washington journalists and nuclear experts, and claimed to have built an “echo chamber” to sell the deal.
Though the agreement was marketed in part as a way to embolden moderate voices within Tehran, the story suggests that it was part of a broader effort to refocus American foreign policy in the Middle East.
“I’d prefer a sober, reasoned public debate, after which members of Congress reflect and take a vote,” he told the magazine. “But that’s impossible.”
Critics of the agreement seized on the comments, claiming they were proof of the administration’s deception.
Last week, the House Oversight Committee asked Rhodes to testify about his remarks, in an intensification of the public scolding. Defenders of the nuclear accord dismissed the demand, calling it a belated line of attack months after the agreement had gone into effect.
“The truth is, it is Republicans in Congress who criticize the Iran deal who've got a lot to explain when it comes to saying things about the Iran deal that didn't turn out to be true,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters earlier on Monday. “And if they want to hold a hearing to determine whether or not Republicans were just wrong and badly misinformed or if they were purposely lying to the American people, then they can do that.”
The White House declined to clarify whether or not Rhodes would testify until the Oversight Committee released Eggleston’s letter late on Monday afternoon.
Instead, the panel will hear from Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonProgressive foreign policy should not be pro-autocracy Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE (R-Ark.) — an ardent opponent of the nuclear pact — as well as three experts from right-leaning think tanks: the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
The nuclear deal sets limits on Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.