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White House says top Obama aide will not testify before Issa’s House committee

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House said on Tuesday that political adviser David Simas would not answer a subpoena to appear on Wednesday before a congressional oversight committee, saying he was immune from being compelled to testify.

Republican Representative Darrell Issa (pictured above), chairman of the House of Representatives’ Oversight and Government Reform Committee, subpoenaed Simas last week to testify about how his office complies with the Hatch Act, a law that forbids most federal government employees from engaging in partisan political activity.

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Simas is director of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach. Recent presidents, both Democratic and Republican, have all had at least one top political adviser in a position similar to that of Simas.

The Obama administration had contested the subpoena, with White House counsel Neil Eggleston writing to Issa on Monday that it was “precipitate and surprising in light of our clear willingness to work with you to meet your informational needs.”

In a follow-up letter to Issa on Tuesday, Eggleston wrote that the committee’s effort to compel Simas’s testimony threatened the executive branch’s long-standing interest in preserving the president’s independence and autonomy “as well as his ability to obtain candid advice and counsel to aid him in the discharge of his constitutional duties.”

“In light of those principles … 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,” the letter added.

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Eggleston also said that Issa had made no effort to justify his “extraordinary demand that one of the president’s immediate advisers testify at a committee hearing.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Peter Cooney; Editing by Ken Wills)


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New ‘Lord of the Rings’ show to start filming in New Zealand`

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US-based streaming giant Amazon announced Wednesday its big-budget "Lord of the Rings" series will within months start filming in New Zealand, home to Peter Jackson's movies of the fantasy epic.

Amazon is reportedly spending US$1 billion-plus on the series as it seeks to emulate the runaway success enjoyed by "Games of Thrones".

Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay said the South Pacific nation offered the "primordial beauty" of Middle Earth, the setting for J.R.R. Tolkien's tales of elves, dwarf and hobbits.

"We needed to find somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forests, and mountains, that also is a home to world-class sets, studios, and highly skilled and experienced craftspeople," they said in a statement.

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Mitch McConnell crony running for Kentucky AG is ineligible for office: lawsuit

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On Tuesday, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that a new lawsuit seeks to remove Daniel Cameron from the ballot as the Kentucky GOP's nominee for state attorney general.

According to the lawsuit, filed by retired union worker and "concerned citizen" Joseph Leon Jackson Sr. in Jefferson Circuit Court, Cameron does not meet the office requirement of having practiced law for eight years — because although he was admitted by the Kentucky Bar Association in 2011, he spent two of the following years clerking for U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove.

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Trump lashes out at Lindsey Graham after he accuses the president of showing ‘weakness’

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President Donald Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham, once bitter enemies, have become close allies since the 2016 election as the South Carolina Republican realized it was in his personal interest to cozy up to the White House. But on Tuesday, fractures emerged between the two in public over a key issue for Graham: Iran.

Graham is on the severely hawkish wing of the Republican Party, and he clearly wants a war with Iran. He began a series of tweets Tuesday by praising Vice President Mike Pence’s briefing that day about the recent attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, saying he believes that “such a sophisticated attack could not have occurred without Iran’s blessing and direct involvement.” He called it an “an act of war” and lauded the Trump administration’s “efforts to create a regional coalition, thoroughly brief the Congress on the actions taken, and come up with a plan of action to restore deterrence against an evil regime in Iran.”

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