Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has rejected as "nonsense" a U.S. Department of Justice memo essentially telling cabinet officials they are free to ignore requests for information from the opposition party.
Democrats have been frustrated by a lack of response from Trump administration officials, who were reminded in a May 1 memo that they are under no obligation to respond to requests from individual members of Congress, including ranking minority members.
The memo was penned by Curtis Gannon, who serves as the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who serves as ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, slammed the unresponsiveness during a June 7 hearing to consider nominees to the Federal Energy Management Agency and Office of Management and Budget. Carper criticized the Trump administration for shutting down communications with minority members, given its pledge to "drain the swamp."
"If we had a Democratic administration and Republicans were trying to get information and do oversight over this Democratic administration, and got the kind of responses that we've been getting — non-responses — you guys would shut the place down," said Carper. "We probably ought to do that as well."
In a letter addressed to President Donald Trump, released June 9, Grassley concurred with Democrats, blasting the guidance and questioning the constitutional argument made by Gannon to justify it. Grassley chairs the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
"Shutting down oversight requests doesn't drain the swamp, Mr. President. It floods the swamp," Grassley wrote. Gannon's memo "completely misses the mark" and erroneously rejects the need for members of Congress beyond committee leaders to access information from the executive branch, according to the senator.
"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," Grassley said. "This is nonsense."
Grassley said the Constitution does not mention committees or committee chairmen and Congress has not requested such a restriction on the flow of information from the executive branch.
"For [the Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC] to so fundamentally misunderstand and misstate such a simple fact exposes its shocking lack of professionalism and objectivity," Grassley told the president. "Indeed, OLC appears to have utterly failed to live up to its own standards. You are being ill-served and ill-advised."
Gannon asserted that his guidance is consistent with a "longstanding" executive branch policy of ignoring congressional requests unless they come from a committee, subcommittee or chairman. But Grassley said voluntary requests from members of Congress have been accommodated by the executive branch "since the beginning of the Republic."
Democrats provided a list of 102 requests for information that were submitted since January 25 but had yet to receive a response. Some of the requests were directed to White House officials and Trump specifically in certain instances, seeking information on a variety of issues such as the president's plans for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's leadership. Democrats' requests also have been ignored by leaders of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of State, Food and Drug Administration, National Economic Council, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Treasury, Department of Justice and others.
"The practical implications of the policy that this opinion is reportedly designed to support are extremely troublesome for the effective and efficient functioning of our constitutional democracy," Grassley said. "I know from experience that a partisan response to oversight only discourages bipartisanship, decreases transparency, and diminishes the crucial role of the American people's elected representatives."
Grassley asked Trump to rescind the policy and restore the flow of information between the executive branch and Congress.