The Trump administration’s obstruction of congressional investigations has been unprecedented, with the White House characterizing Congress’ constitutionally mandated oversight as harassment and vowing to fight “all the subpoenas.” To shed light on the executive branch’s stonewalling, American Oversight today filed two lawsuits for records of communications between the White House and five Trump administration agencies.
In May 2019, the White House took the extraordinary step of announcing that it would broadly refuse to comply with oversight requests from the legislative branch. In a letter to the House Judiciary chairman, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone called congressional investigations an effort to “harass” President Donald Trump and stated that current and former administration officials would not be permitted to testify before Congress.
This letter followed months of agencies refusing to comply with requests for documents from congressional committees attempting to engage in fact-finding. On April 24, the Justice Department announced that it would not comply with a congressional subpoena for John Gore, assistant attorney general for civil rights, to testify in the House investigation of the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross refused to produce documents requested by House Committee on Oversight and Reform in their ongoing census investigation, and Ross has also been accused by House Democrats of lying to Congress during testimony before the committee.
Similarly, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has repeatedly denied congressional requests to allow the IRS to turn over Trump’s tax returns, citing a “lack of legitimate legislative purpose” — a standard widely considered to be invented, with no grounding in the law. These refusals to cooperate, paired with the president’s public statements, raise grave concerns about whether and to what extent the White House is directing federal agencies to stonewall or obstruct congressional investigations.
“President Trump announced an unprecedented war on congressional oversight, and his appointees across the government quickly fell in line,” said Austin Evers, American Oversight’s executive director. “The public should see how the White House is coordinating a campaign to destroy checks and balances and protect the president and his allies from accountability. The American people deserve better than the scorched-earth, selfish tactics that Donald Trump rode to fame and fortune in his private life.”
In June and July, American Oversight sent 10 Freedom of Information Act requests to multiple agencies, seeking communications between agency political appointees and members of the White House counsel’s office. Today’s lawsuits, against the General Services Administration and the Departments of the Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, and Justice asks the federal courts to order the agencies to comply with the law and respond to those requests.
“The Trump administration’s disdain for accountability has gotten so bad that they’re now stonewalling the investigation of their stonewalling, and we’ve been forced to go to court to get answers,” continued Evers. “The law is clear, and the public has a right to see what our government is doing — even if the White House might not like it.”
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