The Trump administration’s policy of ignoring the oversight requests of Democrats and rank-and-file members has earned it a powerful enemy: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley.
In a letter to President Donald Trump, the veteran Iowa Republican senator urged Trump to reverse a policy instituted by the White House and the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel to answer oversight requests only from committee chairmen, all of whom are Republicans because of GOP control of Congress. Though Grassley said that the Obama administration did sometimes ignore him, he said the formalization of a policy of ignoring the minority party “doesn’t drain the swamp, Mr. President. It floods the swamp.”
“I respectfully request that the White House rescind this OLC opinion and any policy of ignoring oversight request from non-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.
He was not near done. In the seven-page letter to the president, Grassley calls the administration’s opinion “nonsense” and argues that the president is being “ill-served and ill-advised” by his staff.
“To so fundamentally misunderstand and misstate such a simple fact exposes its shocking lack of professionalism and objectivity. Indeed, OLC appears to have utterly failed to live up to its own standards,” Grassley added.
Fearing the weaponization of oversight requests by Democrats amid a deepening investigation into the administration’s ties to Russia, White House officials instructed government agencies not to respond to oversight requests from anyone other than chairmen last month. Also in May, OLC wrote a guidance memo that formally restricted the flow of information to Democrats.
“Individual members of Congress, including ranking minority members, do not have the authority to conduct oversight in the absence of a specific delegation by a full house, committee, or subcommittee,” OLC wrote in the memo.
There have been some exceptions to this policy on subjects like national security and at the Treasury Department, according to Democratic and Republican Hill staffers. But Democrats released dozens of letters on Thursday that they said have gone substantively unanswered by the Trump administration.
Democrats are outraged at the moves by the Trump White House to squash their requests, which range from overtly partisan letters asking for information that would likely damage the president to parochial issues that will never grab headlines. And now, some Republicans are, too.
“Members of Congress simply do not treat executive branch officials with such contempt and they do not deserve such treatment in return,” Grassley wrote. “Unlike virtually all executive branch officials, Members are elected to constitutional positions. Instead, the executive branch should work to cooperate in good faith with all congressional requests to the fullest extent possible.”