Oversight Releases Resolution Rejecting White House Claim of Immunity for Political Office Director David Simas
Committee will consider resolution Friday if Simas rejects second chance offer to testify
Today, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) released a resolution the Oversight Committee will consider on Friday if White House political office Director David Simas declines the Committee’s extraordinary accommodation—a second chance to testify at a hearing he had been subpoenaed to attend last week. Chairman Issa made the second chance offer in a letter last week to White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston, in order to avoid a constitutional clash over subpoeaned testimony by allowing Mr. Simas to appear tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. If Mr. Simas fails to appear the resolution would find that his refusal “is contrary to well-established law and amounts to contumacious conduct” and reject the White House contention that Mr. Simas is immune from congressional compulsion to testify on matters relating to his official duties. The letter follows known violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of government funds for political campaigning, by two Members of President Obama’s cabinet; the President’s closure of a political office deemed illegal in 2011; and his decision to reopen it under Mr. Simas’ leadership in 2014.
Chairman Issa made the following statement on the release of the resolution:
“I urge Mr. Simas to appear, but the White House has offered us no indication that it intends to accept our offer. What are they afraid of? The Director of the political office in the Bush Administration testified before this Committee, we know that there have been high-level Hatch Act violations under President Obama, and a federal judge has already rejected claims that an official like Mr. Simas enjoys a special immunity above and beyond Executive privilege. I expect our Committee will reject President Obama’s assertion that his White House should be afforded special treatment that House Democrats did not extend to Republican Administrations when they were in the majority.”
Following Mr. Simas’s failure to appear last Wednesday, Chairman Issa recessed the hearing after opening statements – leaving open the possibility for Mr. Simas to meet his legal obligation at a reconvened hearing tomorrow. When a federal court ruled in Congress’s favor in House Judiciary Committee v. Miers, it created a legal precedent, applying to both Democratic and Republican Administrations, rejecting the claims the Obama White House is now attempting to make regarding immunity for the President’s advisers from compulsion to give congressional testimony. The Oversight Committee has sought testimony from the Director of the Obama White House’s political office in order to continue bipartisan oversight of a political office embedded within the White House which, under Democratic and Republican administrations, has had a controversial role of coordinating political campaign activity for the President at taxpayer expense. Two members of President Obama’s Cabinet violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of taxpayer funds for political campaigning. Under a Democratic Majority, former House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman took testimony from four current and former political office Directors who served during the Bush Administration.
The text of the resolution follows:
RESOLUTION OF THE COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM
Whereas, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is investigating and conducting oversight over the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, and has authority to investigate such matters under House Rules X and XI.
Whereas, David M. Simas currently serves as Director of the Office of Political Strategy & Outreach and Assistant to the President.
Whereas, on July 11, 2014, the Committee served Mr. Simas a duly authorized subpoena compelling him to appear at a hearing on July 16, 2014.
Whereas, on July 15, 2014, White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston (“White House Counsel”) informed the Committee that it is the White House’s view that Mr. Simas is immune from being compelled to testify before Congress on matters relating to his official duties, and noted that Mr. Simas would not appear at the hearing.
Whereas, Mr. Simas failed to appear at the hearing on July 16, 2014, despite being compelled to do so.
Whereas, in a July 18, 2014 letter, the Committee informed White House Counsel, that his contention that Mr. Simas need not appear or testify before the Committee, despite having been compelled to do so by a lawfully issued subpoena, is contrary to well-established law and amounts to contumacious conduct. Whereas, in the July 18, 2014 letter, the Committee also informed White House Counsel that in an effort to resolve this matter, it would reconvene the hearing on July 25, 2014, and stated the Committee expected Mr. Simas to appear at the hearing pursuant to the subpoena, which remained in effect.
Whereas, Mr. Simas failed to appear at the reconvened session of the hearing on July 25, 2014.
Whereas, Mr. Simas’s failure to appear at the hearing, either on July 16 or July 25, 2014, denied Committee Members and the American people an opportunity to hear from the head of an office that has—under several previous Administrations—misused government resources for political purposes.
Resolved, That the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform rejects the claim made by the White House that Mr. Simas is immune from congressional compulsion to testify on matters relating to his official duties.