Cummings Issues Statement on Issa Demand For Testimony From Senior White House Advisor

Jul 15, 2014
Press Release
Latest Issa Letter Disregards White House Briefing, Ignores Lack of Any Evidence of Wrongdoing

Washington, DC —Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued a statement in response to a letter from Chairman Issa insisting that his unilateral subpoena remains in effect for testimony tomorrow from David Simas, an Assistant to the President and the Director of the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach.  Issa’s letter identifies no evidence of inappropriate activity by Simas or the office he directs, and it disregards a detailed briefing provided to Committee staff by the White House Counsel’s office earlier today.

Cummings stated:

“It’s bad enough that Chairman Issa issued a unilateral subpoena to a senior advisor to the President with absolutely no debate or vote by the Committee, but in this case, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Mr. Simas or anyone on his staff did anything wrong.  Today’s briefing from the White House was detailed and thorough, and Committee staff were able to ask all the questions they had.  There seems to be no reason to continue this ridiculous confrontation other than to manufacture false controversy as Chairman Issa’s tenure comes to an end.”

Today, attorneys from the White House Counsel’s Office provided a detailed briefing for staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the newly-established OSPO and its compliance with the federal Hatch Act.

The briefing was attended by nine Republican staff working for Chairman Darrell Issa, who issued a unilateral subpoena last Friday to compel testimony at tomorrow’s hearing from David Simas, a senior advisor to the President and director of this new Office, despite the absence of any evidence of inappropriate activity by Simas or this Office.

The briefing included a detailed description of the history of the Office, the requirements of the Hatch Act, and the vigorous efforts undertaken by the White House to ensure that this Office is not only complying with the Hatch Act, but going above and beyond its requirements to prevent the types of improper activities identified under the Bush Administration by this Committee and the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).

No Evidence White House Doing Anything Inappropriate

Today’s White House briefing confirmed that there is still absolutely no credible evidence that Simas or anyone on his staff engaged in any activity that is inappropriate or violates the Hatch Act in the six months since this new Office was first established in January 2014:

  • The White House explained that the new Office has two primary functions: 

(1) to serve as the single point of contact to receive invitations to the President and the First Lady to participate in political events or send political communications on behalf of candidates and political parties, to determine whether these invitations should be accepted, and if so, to handle the significant logistics for such events; and

(2) to obtain information from political candidates and groups to help inform the President’s policy agenda, and to communicate to these individuals and entities to ensure the President’s policy agenda is being portrayed accurately and effectively.

  • The White House explained that these activities are all permitted under the Hatch Act, and they help streamline the previous process in which invitations may have been sent to various offices within the White House.
  • The new Office does not raise funds for political candidates, does not schedule travel for Cabinet Secretaries, and does not engage in the types of political “boiler-room” activities that characterized the previous Administration’s Office of Political Affairs.
  • The White House confirmed that OSC has not raised any concerns about the organization or functions of this new Office.

White House Going Above and Beyond Hatch Act Requirements

The White House explained in detail a series of steps that were taken before the new Office was established:

  • The White House carefully reviewed the 2008 report by the Committee and the 2011 report by OSC about the Office of Political Affairs under the Bush Administration to understand permissible and impermissible activities under the Hatch Act.  .
  • When the new Office was established, the White House provided copies of both reports to the new employees of this Office to review.
  • The White House provided training to these employees on their obligations under the Hatch Act, as well as training on other legal requirements such as the Presidential Records Act and ethics laws.
  • The White House conducts extra review of events to which the President and First Lady have been invited and works with event hosts to ensure that everyone understands the requirements of the law.
  • The White House remains in regular contact with OSC to ensure that its guidance and activities are “on the same page” with OSC’s guidance.

Structural Differences with Bush Administration’s Office of Political Affairs

The White House made clear during the briefing that the new Office is not a “reopening” of the Bush Administration’s Office of Political Affairs in several key respects:

  • Employees of the new Office are “commissioned officers,” which means they are exempt from political activity restrictions under the Hatch Act.
  • The new Office has only three staff, while the Bush Administration’s office was much larger, with a Director, a Deputy Director, and five regional Associate Directors, as well as staff from the regional office of the Republican National Committee.

Status of Subpoena for Testimony

When Chairman Issa issued his subpoena on Friday to compel testimony tomorrow from Simas, he wrote a letter stating:  “If, after the briefing, the Committee has no outstanding questions for Mr. Simas, I will reconsider whether it is necessary for him to appear at the hearing.”

During the briefing, both Republican and Democratic staff were able to ask all of the questions they had, including about allegations in press reports, interactions between the new Office and Cabinet officials, and previously reported Hatch Act incidents involving Administration officials.

No new allegations or evidence was brought forward to raise additional concerns.  At the conclusion of the briefing, the Republican staffer leading the meeting thanked the White House and said, “That’s all the questions I have.”

This afternoon, Chairman Issa sent a letter to the White House stating:  “The briefing provided to Committee staff today, while helpful and appreciated, did not answer all questions.”  As a result, Chairman Issa wrote that “Mr. Simas is still under subpoena and is expected to appear at tomorrow’s hearing.”

113th Congress