Repub­li­cans sym­pa­thize with mi­nor­ity party, re­buff Trump on over­sight data

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY AN­DREA NO­BLE

The White House hasn’t found sup­port for its ef­fort to freeze out Democrats’ over­sight re­quests among Repub­li­cans — who re­mem­ber all too well the dif­fi­cul­ties they faced as the mi­nor­ity party try­ing to pry in­for­ma­tion from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Sev­eral prom­i­nent Repub­li­can lead­ers have lashed out in re­cent days af­ter the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­port­edly di­rected fed­eral agen­cies to ig­nore re­quests for in­for­ma­tion from Democrats and of­fered with­er­ing crit­i­cism of a re­cent le­gal opin­ion from the Jus­tice De­part­ment that ap­pears to give the White House le­gal cover to do so.

Last week, Repub­li­can lead­ers re­counted their dif­fi­cul­ties as the mi­nor­ity party in Congress in get­ting the Obama Jus­tice De­part­ment to di­vulge facts about Fast and Fu­ri­ous, the botched gun-walk­ing op­er­a­tion of the Bureau of Al­co­hol, Tobacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives.

Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, the Iowa Repub­li­can who pressed for the con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the op­er­a­tion, high­lighted the delays he faced get­ting in­for­ma­tion about the case when he tes­ti­fied last week be­fore the House Over­sight and Govern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee and ad­vo­cated for leg­isla­tive changes to en­sure that mem­bers of the ex­ec­u­tive branch “can­not rely on phony priv­i­lege claims and de­lay tac­tics” to avoid re­spond­ing to con­gres­sional in­quiries.

“Some­times you are in the ma­jor­ity and some­times you are in the mi­nor­ity, and there is a process that has to be avail­able,” Mr. Grass­ley said.

Re­flect­ing on the strug­gles Mr. Grass­ley en­coun­tered at the time, Rep. Dar­rell E. Issa, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can, likened them to the prob­lems Democrats are fac­ing to­day.

“Ap­par­ently, many don’t un­der­stand that you were in the mi­nor­ity and they were seek­ing not to in fact co­op­er­ate,” Mr. Issa said. “I be­lieve the mi­nor­ity should be heard and rea­son­ably an­swered.”

Rep. Ja­son Chaf­fetz, Utah Repub­li­can and chair­man of the House over­sight com­mit­tee, shared that sen­ti­ment.

“The De­part­ment of Jus­tice is tak­ing a po­si­tion that they should only re­spond to chair­men. I think that is a dan­ger­ous and un­sus­tain­able pol­icy,” Mr. Chaf­fetz said.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment’s of­fice of le­gal coun­sel is­sued an opin­ion last month that drew wide­spread re­buke from Democrats, who said it would ham­per Congress’ abil­ity to con­duct over­sight.

“In­di­vid­ual mem­bers of Congress, in­clud­ing rank­ing mi­nor­ity mem­bers, do not have the author­ity to con­duct over­sight in the ab­sence of a spe­cific del­e­ga­tion by a full house, com­mit­tee, or sub­com­mit­tee,” read the opin­ion, writ­ten by Cur­tis Gan­non, the act­ing as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral for the of­fice of le­gal coun­sel. “They may re­quest in­for­ma­tion from the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch, which may re­spond at its dis­cre­tion, but such re­quests do not trig­ger any obli­ga­tion to ac­com­mo­date con­gres­sional needs and are not legally en­force­able through a sub­poena or con­tempt pro­ceed­ings.”

Mean­while, the White House has told agen­cies not to re­spond to re­quests for in­for­ma­tion un­less they come from a com­mit­tee chair­man, but Repub­li­cans con­trol both houses of Congress and there­fore the com­mit­tee chair­man­ships.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, spoke out against the le­gal opin­ion last week, call­ing it an at­tempt by the pres­i­dent “to hide the truth from the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

“With this or­der, Pres­i­dent Trump is mak­ing his dis­re­gard for trans­parency and his lack of re­spect for Congress’ over­sight role crys­tal clear,” said Mrs. Pelosi. “Since Day One, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­fused to re­spond to hun­dreds of re­quests from Democrats on a range of is­sues crit­i­cal to the health and se­cu­rity of the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

The le­gal opin­ion states that a let­ter or in­quiry from mem­bers of Congress who do not chair rel­e­vant com­mit­tees are “not prop­erly con­sid­ered an ‘over­sight’ re­quest.” As a re­sult, such in­quiry “does not trig­ger any obli­ga­tion to ac­com­mo­date con­gres­sional needs and is not legally en­force­able through a sub­poena or con­tempt pro­ceed­ings.”

Af­ter speak­ing out against the opin­ion last week, Mr. Grass­ley wrote to Pres­i­dent Trump on Fri­day ask­ing him to re­scind the Jus­tice De­part­ment opin­ion.

“Over­sight brings trans­parency, and trans­parency brings ac­count­abil­ity,” he wrote. “And, the op­po­site is true. Shut­ting down over­sight re­quests doesn’t drain the swamp, Mr. Pres­i­dent. It floods the swamp.”

Not ev­ery agency ap­pears to be fol­low­ing the White House di­rec­tive to shut down re­quests that come from in­di­vid­ual mem­bers of Congress rather than com­mit­tee chair­men.

Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly tes­ti­fied last week be­fore a House com­mit­tee that he is try­ing to im­prove the de­part­ment’s bad rep­u­ta­tion for fail­ure to re­spond to con­gres­sional in­quiries.

“I think ev­ery se­na­tor I talked to in of­fice calls, beats me up very, very bru­tally about the fact that my de­part­ment was among the worst in the fed­eral govern­ment to re­spond­ing to con­gres­sional in­quiries,” Mr. Kelly said.

To help stream­line the work­load of re­spond­ing to in­for­ma­tion re­quests, Mr. Kelly said, he would pre­fer that such ques­tions go through a com­mit­tee. He said the de­part­ment won’t hes­i­tate to an­swer any con­gres­sional in­quiry, though he ac­knowl­edged that it could take time be­cause of the num­ber of re­quests and the of­ten broad scope of in­for­ma­tion sought.

“The point is, on the con­gres­sional in­quiries, my folks are lean­ing for­ward on this,” said Mr. Kelly, “So what we will al­ways do is ei­ther call your staff or fre­quently write a let­ter back say­ing, ‘You know, we got the re­quest, it’s go­ing to take us some time, it’s a huge re­quest and just bear with us but we’ll get back to you.’”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. Chuck Grass­ley ad­vo­cated for leg­isla­tive changes to en­sure that mem­bers of the ex­ec­u­tive branch “can­not rely on phony priv­i­lege claims and de­lay tac­tics.”

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