The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee told a Thursday forum at the Washington-based watchdog Judicial Watch that starting April 1 his committee and staff will hold President Donald Trump and his administration accountable for producing requested documents.
“I would hope the new president would get more aggressive and demand that these departments and agencies provide the documents that Congress is seeking,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who took over the committee at the start of the previous session of Congress. “I don’t think they are off to a good start.”
Up until the end of March, the chairman said he indulged the Trump administration’s need to settle in, he said.
The chairman was careful to note that regarding new requests the committee sent to the administration, the response has been prompt and cooperative, such as with inquiries into the Government Services Administration lease of the Old Post Office building to the Trump Organization, now operating the Trump International Hotel there. “That was disposed of right on time.”
Chaffetz said that all requests to the President Barack Obama administration are still active, and before the inauguration, he sent a letter to then-incoming White House Counsel Donald McGahn informing him that he expected the Trump administration to have a better record complying with congressional requests than Obama’s. “We expect these to be fulfilled.”
The problem is that many of the same people who obstructed congressional inquiries before Jan. 20 are still in place after Jan. 20, he said. “The non-political appointees, who were giving us the stiff arm in the past and they’re giving us the stiff arm now.”
There is now a culture of non-disclosure and uncooperativeness inside the executive branch that has to change, he said.
“It is just stunning the creativity and reluctance to provide a basic document, and I have not seen anything change in the first 70-odd days,” he said.
“We are still in court over Fast and Furious,” he said. “Fast and Furious was this gun-running scheme, where the administration, knowingly and willingly, gave the drug cartels nearly 2,000 weapons. They did this on purpose. Really bad idea.”
Chaffetz went on to say:
Instead of showing us the documents and showing us the information and coming clean on what they admit was a really bad operation that led to the death of an untold number of people–you had the attorney general himself personally–I am foreshadowing here because we have not released this–almost on a daily basis, personally get involved in exactly what they were going to provide to Congress, not provide Congress, as he personally on a daily basis went out there to try to manipulate the truth.
That attorney general was Eric Holder.
Another example of one of the committee’s open investigations is the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on American personnel and facilities in Benghazi, Libya, he said.
In that case, the Utah congressman said a Utah National Guardsman spoke to him privately about his tour of duty in Libya that ended shortly before the attacks.
Chaffetz said he arranged to meet the soldier in a Secured Compartmented Intelligence Facility, or SCIF, in Utah. After that conversation, the congressman went to Libya himself to check out the situation.
“It was not the safest decision I ever made,” he said. Security personnel would not allow him to sleep overnight at the American embassy in Tripoli.
“I got back, and I started to pepper the administration,” he said.
When Chaffetz returned, Obama administration officials repeatedly mislead him about facts on the ground there, seemingly unaware that the congressman had learned the facts on the ground there by being there himself.
“They were in total denial,” he said. “Almost every single fact that I learned there they denied.”
The frustrations dealing with the Obama White House were not just political, but also institutional, he said.
There is an inherent conflict of interest when the House of Representatives must rely on the executive, the Department of Justice, to enforce its subpoenas and prosecute individuals working in the executive branch.
Most times, requests to the executive are dead letters until Congress or a third-party, such Judicial Watch, convinces a judge to order the bureaucrats to comply, he said.
“It shouldn’t have to be that way,” he said.
Watch the full presentation by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) at Judicial Watch: