White House and Issa battle over Obama political director

White House and Issa battle over Obama political director
CNN
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Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 9:47pm

Few Americans know the name David Simas. But the White House political adviser has become the latest flashpoint in the continuing battles between the White House and House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa.

Late last week, Simas was subpoenaed by Issa's committee to testify about his duties as the White House director of political strategy. Issa is demanding to know whether Simas' activities are in violation of the Hatch Act, which bars most federal employees from engaging in partisan political activities.

Simas will not appear, White House counsel Neil Eggleston said Tuesday evening. Simas is "immune from congressional compulsion to testify," Eggleston said.

Issa blasted the decision.

"The Obama White House's claim that David Simas, the director of its political office, is absolutely immune from testifying before Congress is a sweeping assertion that a federal court has already rejected," Issa said in a statement late Tuesday. "In 2008, a federal judge found that the idea of absolute immunity of a White House official from a congressional subpoena was 'unprecedented.' "

Before serving as political director for the White House, Simas was President Barack Obama's point man in the fight over the Affordable Care Act. Before coming to the White House, Simas served as director of opinion research for Obama's re-election campaign."

"The Clinton White House, Bush White House, and other administrations before them have all faced congressional oversight of political activity supported by taxpayer funds," Issa wrote in a letter to Eggleston on Tuesday. "Under this administration, like previous administrations, members of President Obama's Cabinet have committed violations of the Hatch Act, which draws a line between campaign and official business."

Eggleston responded to Issa's subpoena by sending White House staffers to brief the chairman's office about Simas' duties Tuesday. But a Democratic source complained to CNN that Issa was a "no show" for the meeting.

"I do think it's fairly remarkable, that if Issa wants to be seen as genuinely caring about the issue (and not just cameras), that he didn't even bother to attend. I would love to know what his staff says he was doing instead," the source said.

Issa's office responded by saying Simas did not attend the meeting either and pointed to a letter from the chairman to Eggleston last week that stated the briefing was intended to be for the California Republican's staff.

"The White House never should have had an expectation that members (of Congress) should attend, this was never planned as a member briefing. This is a fake issue they are trying to use to distract away from actual Hatch Act violations," Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said.

Simas is still under subpoena to testify Wednesday, Issa said in a letter to Eggleston on Tuesday.

"The committee has outstanding questions for Mr. Simas," Issa wrote in Tuesday's letter. "I believe his on-the-record testimony will provide valuable insight into White House efforts to ensure appropriate use of taxpayer funds."

Issa noted House Democrats investigated the political activities of various White House officials in President George W. Bush's administration.

Eggleston argued in his own letter to Issa that the chairman's investigation threatens the separation of powers between the branches of government.

The ranking Democrat on the Oversight committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said Issa lacked any evidence to show Simas or his staff is in violation of the Hatch Act.

"There seems to be no reason to continue this ridiculous confrontation other than to manufacture false controversy as Chairman Issa's tenure comes to an end," Cummings said in a statement. 

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