Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) blasted President Donald Trump's White House legal team this week for attempting to limit Congress' ability to obtain information from the Executive Branch of government.
"This is nonsense," Grassley said in a 7-page letter dated June 7 that accuses the White House's legal handlers of violating the separation of powers and attempting an end run around the checks and balances that allow the co-equal branches of the U.S. government to function.
The letter is a scathing denunciation of a May 1 opinion issued by the White House's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that would allow the president, vice president and their respective staffers to ignore any requests for information that do not come directly from the chairmen of Congressional committees.
The opinion was authored by Acting Assistant Attorney General Curtis E. Gannon and Grassley said it "completely misses the mark."
"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 said. "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."
The senator continued, "For OLC to so fundamentally misunderstand and misstate such a simple fact exposes its shocking lack of professionalism and objectivity. Indeed, OLC appears to have utterly failed to live up to its own standards. You are being ill-served and ill advised."
All members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate should have the power to make requests and to obtain whatever information they need from the Executive Branch, Grassley said, in order to maintain accountability.
"The powers vested in the Congress -- both explicitly and inherently by the Constitution --
impose significant and far-reaching responsibilities on the people’s elected representatives," he said. "They include the authorization and appropriation of federal funds, the organization of federal departments, the enactment of laws executing the enumerated powers, the confirmation of nominees, the impeachment and removal of officers, and the investigation of the execution of the laws and of waste, fraud, and abuse in federal programs. These responsibilities are all forms of oversight, all mechanisms that support the legislative check and balance of the executive power. All members participate in deciding whether, when, and how Congress will exercise these authorities."
By selectively deciding who it will and will not respond to, Grassley said, the Executive Branch is striking a blow against transparency, discouraging bipartisanship and hurting the American people's representatives' ability to do their job. Furthermore, he said, information requests are not just subpoenas and hostile inquiries. They are how Congress gets the materials it needs to make decisions about budgets and other matters.
He concluded by asking that the OLC rescind its May 1 request "and any policy of ignoring oversight request from non-Chairmen. It harms not just the Members who happen to be in the minority party at the moment, but also, Members in the majority party who are not currently Chairmen. It obstructs what ought to be the natural flow of information between agencies and the committees, which frustrates the Constitutional function of legislating."