White House pledges "best efforts" at timely and responsive answers to congressional oversight;
DOJ nominee to review erroneous legal opinion
WASHINGTON – In response to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s June 7 letter excoriating a Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion on the obligations of the Executive Branch in responding to congressional oversight requests, the White House has committed to voluntarily answer all congressional inquiries, not just those from committee chairmen, and the nominee slated to head the OLC has indicated his commitment to review the erroneous legal opinion that started the controversy.
“I’m glad to see that the administration has decided that timely and responsive answers to Congressional oversight inquiries is the best way forward. This response shows a commitment to follow through on the promise to drain the swamp by fostering more accountability at these federal agencies. When all 535 members of Congress can effectively conduct oversight and get answers, they can better serve the American people,” Grassley said. “I’d still like to see the OLC opinion rescinded, but this is a very good start.”
The White House response, written by Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short, assured that the OLC opinion did not provide a statement of Administration policy. The response stated:
“The Administration’s policy is to respect the rights of all individual Members, regardless of party affiliation, to request information about Executive Branch policies and programs. The Administration will use its best efforts to be as timely and responsive as possible in answering such requests…”
In a series of responses, including through letters and a private meeting, Steven Engel, the president’s nominee to be assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, recognized several important factors in how the Executive Branch should respond to inquiries from Members of Congress. Additionally, he committed to reviewing the problematic OLC opinion, noted the importance of inquiry and oversight in the legislative process and agreed that “…the Executive Branch’s cooperation should not be simply what could be judicially mandated.”
Grassley’s June letter to President Trump repudiated the erroneous and harmful conclusions of the OLC opinion. In his letter, Grassley outlined the constitutional role of Members of Congress in oversight of the federal government and the inherent constitutional power of inquiry vested in individual Members of Congress, citing Supreme Court precedent, legal opinions and government research. Further, he noted that individual members, regardless of committee membership or leadership and regardless of party affiliation, must have relevant information in order to legislate and ensure that the laws passed by Congress are properly implemented.
Grassley has long been an ardent advocate for stringent congressional oversight and frequently defended the prerogatives of the legislative branch in pursuing better government. In addition to his June letter to the president, Grassley placed a hold on Engel’s nomination, halting his confirmation process, until he and the administration made more satisfactory commitments to cooperate with congressional oversight.