In a blistering letter to President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) criticized a May opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel allowing the White House to ignore information requests from Democrats, writing that the opinion is “nonsense.”
The OLC issued a legal opinion in May arguing that the White House did not have to complete requests for information from individual members of Congress, even those who are ranking members on committees, and was only required to fulfill requests sent by committee chairs or full committees. The opinion did not bar the White House from fulfilling requests from individual members, but did have the effect of allowing the executive branch to ignore them, leading Democrats to charge that the White House has been ignoring their oversight requests.
Grassley argued in his Wednesday letter that the OLC’s opinion “completely misses the mark” and that its implications are troubling.
“It erroneously rejects any notion that individual members of Congress who may not chair a relevant committee need to obtain information from the Executive Branch in order to carry out their Constitutional duties,” Grassley wrote. “It falsely asserts that only requests from committees or their chairs are ‘constitutionally authorized,’ and relegates requests from non-Chairmen to the position of ‘non-oversight’ inquiries— whatever that means. This is nonsense.”
Grassley explained that committees are simply a structure to help Congress manage a heavy workload and noted they’re not even mentioned in the Constitution.
“For OLC to so fundamentally misunderstand and misstate such a simple fact exposes its shocking lack of professionalism and objectivity,” Grassley wrote in his letter to Trump. “You are being ill-served and ill-advised.”
The senator also argued that OLC had no authority to declare which requests from Congress to the White House are authorized. He warned Trump against ignoring requests from Democrats, noting that the OLC opinion makes a “contrived distinction between ‘oversight’ and ‘non-oversight’” and does not “say that determinations whether to comply voluntarily with an individual request depend or should depend upon the party of the requester.”
But Grassley said that “bureaucrats in the Executive Branch sometimes choose to respond only to the party in power at the moment,” adding that he had trouble with his own requests to the Obama administration.
“I know from experience that a partisan response to oversight only discourages bipartisanship, decreases transparency, and diminishes the crucial role of the American people;s elected representatives. Oversight brings transparency, and transparency brings accountability,” Grassley wrote. “And the opposite is true. Shutting down oversight requests doesn’t drain the swamp, Mr. President. It floods the swamp.”
Grassley ended the letter by laying out why he found OLC’s opinion so troubling: by refusing to fulfill requests voluntarily, he wrote, the White House will prompt Congress to demand the documents through a compulsory process.
Read the full letter:
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