Committee Offers White House Political Office Director David Simas Second Chance to Avoid Constitutional Clash

Published: Jul 18, 2014

Issa pledges Committee will respect valid assertions of privilege if questions implicate protected presidential communications

Today, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), in a letter to White House Counsel Neil Eggleston, offered White House political office Director David Simas a second chance to testify and avoid a constitutional clash over subpoeaned testimony by appearing next Friday, July 25 at 9:00 AM.

From Chairman Issa’s letter to White House Counsel Eggleston:

“Mr. Simas’ failure to appear, despite having been compelled to do so by a lawfully issued subpoena, was contumacious, and the Committee is prepared to enforce its subpoena.  In light of the White House’s apparent need to further consider the Miers opinion, and in recognition of our mutual interest in resolving this matter in a manner consistent with the guidance contained therein, I am prepared to give Mr. Simas a second chance to appear …. I urge the President to reconsider and to act in a manner consistent with the Constitution and the Court’s ruling in Miers by directing Mr. Simas to appear before the Committee pursuant to the subpoena that remains in effect.  If the President has a legitimate concern that Mr. Simas’ responses to specific Committee questions will implicate matters protected by the presidential communications privilege, he may instruct Mr. Simas to assert that or another valid testimonial privilege, in response to specific questions, consistent with the Miers opinion.”    

Following opening statements, Chairman Issa recessed Wednesday’s proceeding – leaving open an opportunity for Mr. Simas to still meet his legal obligation at a reconvened hearing. When a federal court ruled in Congress’ favor in House Judiciary Committee v. Miers, it created a new legal precedent, applying to both Democratic and Republican Administrations, rejecting the claims the Obama White House is now trying to make about immunity for the President’s advisers from being compelled to give congressional testimony.   The Oversight Committee’s attempt to hear testimony from the Director of the Obama White House’s political office continues 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 Bush Administration did not claim those officials were immune from being compelled to testify.

The two other witnesses who appeared at last Wednesday’s hearing, Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner and Mr. Scott Coffina, who served in the Bush White House Counsel’s office, will only be asked to reappear if Mr. Simas indicates his intention to testify.  If Mr. Simas does not appear, the Oversight Committee will immediately convene a business meeting to vote on the validity of the White House’s claim that Mr. Simas is immune from compulsory Congressional testimony.

You can read the entire letter to White House Counsel Neil Eggleston here.