Issa Refuses to Drop Simas Subpoena After White House Plea (Updated)

The White House wants Issa to drop his latest subpoena. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
The White House wants Issa to drop his latest subpoena. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 14, 2014 at 6:05pm

Updated 9:35 a.m. July 15 | House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa is still demanding — for now — that top White House political adviser David Simas appear on Capitol Hill Wednesday, despite a plea Monday from the top White House lawyer that the subpoena be dropped.  

“The subpoena for Mr. Simas’ testimony remains in effect,” Issa spokeswoman Becca Glover Watkins said in an emailed statement. “The White House has had multiple opportunities to work with Congress to date, and has neglected to do so. Chairman Issa has allowed that if the White House provided the requested information to the Committee, he would reconsider but at present Mr. Simas is still expected to appear at Wednesday’s hearing.”  

In a letter to the California Republican on Monday, White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston said that subpoenaing the testimony of the president’s top advisers has raised separation of powers concerns for multiple presidents.  

“The Committee’s effort to compel Mr. Simas’s testimony threatens longstanding interests of the Executive Branch in preserving the President’s independence and autonomy and his ability to obtain candid advice and counsel to aid him in the discharge of his constitutional duties,” Eggleston wrote.  

Eggleston urged Issa to drop the subpoena while offering to provide a briefing in lieu of public testimony on Tuesday. That suggests there’s a chance that the briefing could satisfy Issa. Eggleston also said Issa had yet to show any evidence that Simas has violated the Hatch Act, the law that limits the political activity of federal employees.  

The hearing is titled “White House Office of Political Affairs: Is Supporting Candidates and Campaign Fund-Raising an Appropriate Use of a Government Office?”  

“In an effort to appease its political allies, the Obama Administration broadcast its intention to re-open a political office within the White House to assist in partisan election efforts and fundraising,” Issa said last week. “This hearing will examine abuses of taxpayer funds for political gain and the level of White House commitment to preventing them.”  

Simas’ title is assistant to the president and director of the Office of Political Strategy & Outreach.  

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest dismissed Issa’s subpoena during Friday’s briefing, saying that the office is in full compliance with the Hatch Act.  

“To date, there’s not even any suggestion, let alone evidence, that we’ve deviated from the requirements of the Hatch Act,” he said. “In fact, the Office of Special Counsel recognized in its 2011 report the propriety of having an office in the White House to provide the president with information about the current political environment and political issues nationwide.”  

Issa and the White House have exchanged several letters over the political office, with Issa referring to newspaper reports of Simas’s activities and the White House asserting repeatedly that Issa has not identified a single specific charge of wrongdoing.  

In an earlier letter, Eggleston questioned the desire to have Simas testify.

“It raises the specter that the Committee’s desire for information may not be limited to OPSO’s compliance with the Hatch Act but instead may extend to internal information about Mr. Simas’ analysis and advice on the current political environment and how that informs the President’s development of policy and his other actions,” he wrote. “I am certain we both agree that neither political party should have the ability to conduct a partisan inquiry to gain inside information in seeking political advantage; our desire to reach a mutual accommodation must reflect that.”

July 15 update:

The committee’s ranking member, Elijah Cummings, D-Md., also lodged another protest with Issa over the subpoena. Cummings, who has frequently sparred with Issa, has complained about a ramping up of subpoenas by the chairman without debate or a vote of the committee.

“Issuing a congressional subpoena to a senior advisor to the President is not an action to be taken unilaterally, with no debate, and without adequate foundation,” Cummings said in a letter to Issa. “In the case of Mr. Simas, you have not demonstrated any valid justification for this extreme action. As a result, it appears that this subpoena is the latest in a string of misguided and increasingly desperate efforts to retain the spotlight while lobbing unsubstantiated attacks against the White House.”