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White House Rejects Issa's Subpoena

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AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

In a letter to the California Republican on Tuesday evening, White House counsel W. Neil Eggleston declared: "Mr. Simas is immune from congressional compulsion to testify on matters relating to his official duties and will not appear at the July 16, 2014 hearing."

He cited the "longstanding position of Administrations of both political parties that the President's immediate advisers are immune from congressional testimony subpoenas" and described it as a matter of executive branch independence and autonomy.

The move escalates a battle that began on Friday when Issa subpoenaed Simas, citing suspicions that his office has violated the Hatch Act, a federal law which prohibits most executive branch employees from engaging in partisan political activity. In response the White House, observing that Issa didn't provide proof for his claims, asked him to withdraw the subpoena and sought to resolve the matter by inviting the congressman to a briefing on Tuesday to answer his queries and explain why Simas has complied with the Hatch Act.

Issa didn't flinch. "The subpoena remains in effect," his spokesman Frederick Hill told TPM on Tuesday.

A Democratic source said White House lawyers paid a visit to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with Issa but that he didn't show up for the briefing. Instead the oversight chief's staffers were present and, the source said, the White House lawyers spent an hour and fifteen minutes answering all their questions.

Issa's oversight committee hearing, where Simas was told to testify, remains scheduled to take place on Wednesday morning. The title of the hearing is, "White House Office of Political Affairs: Is Supporting Candidates and Campaign Fund-Raising an Appropriate Use of a Government Office?"

Simas' office is tasked with coordinating activities related to the midterm elections, such as Obama fundraising visits, and to guide administration officials to stay on the right side of the law when it comes to political matters.

UPDATE: At the hearing Wednesday, Issa called Eggleston's letter "deeply disturbing" and "at odds with rulings from our judicial branch about checks and balances." He chastised Simas for having "chosen to to defy this committee and his legal obligation to testify" and said he'll seek clarity on whether Obama intends to "invoke executive privilege" before Republicans consider their next course of action.