The White House has refused to comply with all three investigations by the Republican-controlled House into the questionable behavior of President Donald Trump’s top aides, including Cabinet secretaries and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. And Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are being criticized for accepting no for an answer rather than subpoena the documents.
The investigations involve three of the biggest controversies at the White House since Trump took office — aides using private email for government business, spending taxpayer money on costly private airplane travel and holding interim security clearances for long periods of time while handling the nation’s secrets.
Now, the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee wants to go further. Rep. Elijah Cummings, sent a pair of letters to chairman Trey Gowdy this week urging him to issue subpoenas for documents about private emails and travel. He sent a similar one last week pushing for a subpoena for records on security clearances. The committee’s majority must approve subpoenas.
“During his tenure as Oversight Committee Chairman, Rep. Gowdy has sought information from the White House in three separate investigations, but the White House has defied the committee’s requests every time — with absolutely no repercussions,” Cummings told McClatchy. “It is now clear that the White House will not respond to this committee unless it is compelled to do so. Unfortunately, Republicans continue to wall off the Trump administration from real oversight.”
Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina has not issued a subpoena in his first nine months as chairman, though he threatened to issue subpoenas to agencies in October after some failed to turn over travel records. By comparison, Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Darrell Issa of California issued 7 and 15 subpoenas respectively in their first six months as chairmen, according to the committee. Both Republicans served as chairman when Democrat Barack Obama was president.
The White House and Gowdy’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The record shows the following requests for documents issued by the committee:
On Sept. 25, Gowdy and Cummings sent a request to the White House asking for a variety of documents, including a list of those officials using private email for government business in possible violation of the Presidential Records Act, after it was reported that some aides had done so, including Ivanka Trump and Kushner.
On Sept. 26, they sent a request to the White House and other agencies seeking travel records, including names of passengers on non-commercial trips, after former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price came under fire for spending more than $1 million on military flights and private planes.
On Feb. 15, Gowdy sent a request for information about security clearances, including which aides had interim clearances for extended periods of time, after it was discovered that Staff Secretary Rob Porter had an intern clearance because his two ex-wives accused him of domestic abuse.
In each case, the White House provided limited information and an explanation for failing to provide the requested information by the deadlines. It suggested, among other things, that some offices within the Executive Office of the President do not report to the chief of staff, while also directing the committee to other agencies and recommending lawmakers limit the scope of the request.
Gowdy, sometimes with Cummings as co-author, wrote follow-up letters months ago insisting on more information but with no success. In one instance, he wrote that he expects the administration to follow up after the White House’s conducts its own internal review.
Democrats blame Gowdy for declining requests to issue 32 subpoenas to a wide variety of agencies, including the White House, Office of Management and Budget and Department and Homeland Security, among others, and blocking efforts to allow members of the committee to debate and vote on the subpoena themselves.
Gowdy was known for his aggressive tactics when he led the House committee probe into the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens, when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.
He has launched investigations into other issues, including the administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the fatal attack in Niger that killed four American soldiers, but excluded the White House from requests for information.
The White House and the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel also routinely ignored requests by Democrats after lawyers instructed agencies not to cooperate with requests from them.
That changed somewhat after Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter to Trump urging him to reverse a policy to answer oversight requests only from committee chairmen.
“It harms not just the members who happen to be in the minority party at the moment, but also, members in the majority party who are not currently chairmen. It obstructs what ought to be the natural flow of information between agencies and the committees, which frustrates the constitutional function of legislating,” Grassley wrote in June 2017.
Since then, the administration responds to some of the various requests by Democrats on oversight committees in the House and Senate but not all of them, according to the committees.