Arrogant Obama White House refuses committee subpoena seeking testimony from official over violations of federal law

The Hatch Act explicitly states that federal officials cannot use government (i.e. taxpayer-funded) offices to engage in partisan political activity. But the White House may have violated this federal law earlier this year when it reopened the Office of Political Affairs under the name “White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach.”

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has pointed to a January 2014 New York Times article which made note of the motives for reviving the Office of Political Affairs, which had been dormant for three years, quoting White House officials on background (emphasis added):

[W]ith Mr. Obama in his second term and crucial midterm elections ahead, the White House seems eager to send a new message: that it is serious about defending Democratic control of the Senate and taking back the House from Republicans. White House officials said it makes more sense to have a political office during a congressional election year to focus attention on candidate needs, including fund-raising.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have criticized Mr. Obama’s White House for not being attuned to their political concerns. The problem-plagued rollout of the website last year was the latest example of the lawmakers’ frustration over the impact of White House actions on their election-year prospects.

Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) announced last week that he had subpoenaed David Simas, director of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, to appear at a hearing scheduled for today.

The White House asked Issa to withdraw the subpoena on Monday, but he dismissed the request, explaining that officials from previous White Houses from both parties had previously testified on alleged violations of the Hatch. Issa said that it was “necessary for [Simas] to appear” at the hearing.

So how did the Obama White House react? It refused the subpoena and Simas was a no-show at this morning’s hearing on violations of the Hatch Act, as John Fund explains over at National Review:

White House counsel W. Neil Eggleston says Issa has no power to compel Simas to testify at a hearing Wednesday morning about whether the office he runs has been engaged in improper political activity in violation of the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from such activities as campaign fundraising and explicit political support. Eggleston cited a new opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that cited precedents going back to Presidents Harry Truman and Richard Nixon of executive privilege being asserted against testimony by White House aides.

Precedent is, of course, on Issa’s side, which Fund points out in his story. Moreover, this isn’t the only example of partisan political activity under the Obama administration. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius helped pro-Obamacare organizations raise money from health insurers to promote the open enrollment period.

Issa, for his part, didn’t let the blatant defiance of the White House go without a response. During his opening statement this morning, the California Republican played audio of then-Labor Secretary Hilda Solia soliciting funds, in violation of the Hatch Act, from one of her employees for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign:

“Hi—this is Hilda Solis calling, um, just calling you off-the-record here—Wanted to ask you if you could, um, help us get folks organized to come to a fundraiser that we’re doing for Organizing for America for Obama campaign on Friday at La Fonda at 6 p.m. Steven Smith, an attorney, and his staff are helping us [inaudible]. There are a lot of folks that we know that are coming but wanted to ask you if you might help contribute or get other folks to help out. I would encourage you to call this number, [inaudible]–that’s his assistant– at [phone number] and you can call [the attorney] yourself who’s a good friend, an attorney, good friend of mine, at [phone number]. And it’s for a Friday event at La Fonda [inaudible] we’re just trying to raise money to show that we have support here in [inaudible].”

It’s hard to say what’s worse, violations of the Hatch Act or the White House, once again, defying the constitutional role that Congress is supposed to play in ensuring that there are  checks-and-balances on the executive branch.

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