Oversight Crisis: Trump White House Orders Federal Agencies to Ignore Info Requests from Dems

Oversight Crisis: Trump White House Orders Federal Agencies to Ignore Info Requests from Dems

The White House is reportedly telling federal agencies to ignore oversight requests from Democrats as part of an attempt to prevent potential attacks on President Donald Trump.

Politico reports that White House lawyer Uttam Dhillon has instructed top officials from a number of government agencies to disregard requests for information from Democrats.

Because Trump doesn’t want people to know the truth

Previous administrations have been becoming more partisan over time by ignoring more and more requests from opposition lawmakers, but the Trump administration has really stepped this up, especially when it comes to this new directive.

And the directive follows on the heels of an opinion filed by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that states “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.”

“The Executive Branch’s longstanding policy has been to engage in the established process for accommodating congressional requests for information only when those come from a committee, subcommittee or chairman authorized to conduct oversight,” the opinion, issued June 1 by acting Assistant Attorney General Curtis Gannon reads.

What’s not clear is how the opinion aligns with a federal statute that specifically says executive branch agencies are instructed to respond if “any” seven members of a House oversight committee or “any” five members of a Senate oversight committee sign on to a request, according to U.S. News and World Report. 

Republican administration sources told Politico that the goal of this policy is to protect an administration that already believes it’s being attacked unfairly.

“You have Republicans leading the House, the Senate and the White House,” said one White House official. “I don’t think you’d have the Democrats responding to every minority member request if they were in the same position.”

In general, the Trump administration’s policy is to “accommodate the requests of chairmen, regardless of their political party,” one administration spokeswoman told Politico. But that sinks the Democrats, since Republicans control the House and Senate and therefore control the committees within both chambers.

The spokeswoman also said that the administration responds to “all non-oversight inquiries, including the Senate’s inquiries for purposes of providing advice and consent on nominees, without regard to the political party of the requester.”

“Multiple agencies have, in fact, responded to minority member requests,” she said. “No agencies have been directed not to respond to minority requests.”

While that paints a rosy picture, many Democrats beg to differ. Republicans are quick to say that sometimes President Obama’s administration didn’t seem to be in any hurry to answer questions and sometimes didn’t answer them all. But Obama’s administration never ordered agencies to stop cooperating with Republican oversight requests. And that makes these orders by the Trump White House really stand out.

So what are they trying to hide, and doesn’t the Constitution have something to say about this?

Welp, it certainly does. As part of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment guarantees this:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Then there’s the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which allows people, including members of Congress, to request crucial information they need, but this is ridiculous. Why should members of either party have to jump through this hoop?

While it’s not unusual for House and Senate legislators to fire off obscure requests that aren’t necessarily intended to generate media coverage, the Trump administration’s attempts to stonewall Democrats is unprecedented and may amplify the gridlock in Washington.

Related:Top Republican: Trump is So ‘Crazy’ No One Wants to Work at White House

The administration has taken a sharp turn away from the policies of Reagan-era congressional standards that provided more information to committee chairs. These policies also consistently engaged in oversight with ranking minority members, said Austin Evers, a former Obama Administration lawyer who runs a watchdog group called American Oversight. 

“Instructing agencies not to communicate with members of the minority party will poison the well,” he said. “It will damage relationships between career staffers at agencies and subject matter experts in Congress. One of the reasons you respond to letters from the minority party is to explain yourself. It is to put on the record that even accusations that you find unreasonable are not accurate.”

But Trump doesn’t want to explain himself. And he doesn’t want administration officials to explain him either.

And that has led to the Trump administration sitting on 225 letters dated all the way back to January. The letters are from Senate Democrats requesting information, noted a senior Democratic aide. The vast majority have not been responded too.

“When it comes to almost anything we’ve done at a federal agency, very close to 100 percent we haven’t heard anything back. And at the White House, it’s definitely 100 percent,” said another senior Democratic aide. “This is rampant all over committee land.”

And it means that Washington’s right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing and vice versa. It suggests to me that if Trump requires all this secrecy there must be something very wrong. I’m hoping we either find out what that is right away, or that we don’t have to find out about it at all — because no harm was done.

However, I’m not holding my breath.

Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images