House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., today issued a subpoena to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough for documents related to the reopening of the White House political office after two members of President Obama’s cabinet (HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and DOL Secretary Hilda Solis) were found to have violated laws intended to prevent the abuse of taxpayer dollars for partisan political efforts. After discussions between Committee and White House staffs , Chairman Issa earlier this month offered to narrow the scope of the Committee’s March 2014 document request to further accommodate the White House’s separation of powers concerns, but the White House has still not produced responsive documents after this extraordinary accommodation. In today’s letter to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Chairman Issa wrote:
“On July 28, 2014, our staffs met at the White House to discuss a way forward. My staff made a number of proposals that would allow the Committee to get the information we need. For instance, to accommodate the White House’s stated concerns about having Mr. Simas testify publicly, my staff proposed that the Committee question Mr. Simas in a deposition setting. I also made that request in a letter dated July 24, 2014. To accommodate the White House’s stated concerns about producing documents that implicate the presidential communications privilege, my staff proposed a more narrow production of documents that would exclude communications between the President and his advisers. Indeed, I narrowed my original document request in a letter dated August 12, 2014.”
Chairman Issa continued in the letter:
“The White House has acknowledged that the dialogue has been constructive and that progress has been made. Unfortunately, these characterizations represent the total sum of what the White House has provided in response to my good faith proposals to address the White House’s separation of powers concerns. The White House has not produced any additional documents, nor has the White House stated if or when the Committee will hear from Mr. Simas. In short, the accommodations process, which the White House itself characterized as constructive, has netted the Committee absolutely nothing.”
The subpoena requires that the White House provide the following:
1. All documents and communications referring or relating to, or developed as part of, opening the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach (OPSO), including, but not limited to, any document or communication referring or relating to:
a. The purpose of OPSO;
b. OPSO’s predecessor, the White House Office of Political Affairs, which closed in January 2011;
c. Policies or guidelines for approval of travel;
d. Classification of travel as political, official, or both; and,
e. Criteria and processes for approval and classification determinations.
2. All documents and communications between and among OPSO employees referring or relating to President Obama’s June 26-27, 2014 trip to Minnesota and President Obama’s July 8-9, 2014 trip to Colorado, including, but not limited to, documents and communications referring or relating to the decision to add official events to the President’s itinerary.
3. All documents and communications to or from OPSO employees referring or relating to travel and/or political events involving Cabinet officials.
In July, the Committee approved a resolution to reject a White House assertion of “absolute immunity” for White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach Director David Simas, who has failed to appear before the Committee twice.
Read today’s letter to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough here.