Grassley calls Trump administration's oversight claims 'nonsense'

A leading Senate Republican is amplifying claims by House Democrats for access to Trump administration officials and materials for oversight purposes. A new lawsuit, meanwhile, also could shake loose relevant documents and details.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is pushing back against a Justice Department opinion that essentially insulates the Trump administration from document requests and other efforts at oversight from Democratic members of Congress.

A  May 1 opinion signed by Curtis Gannon, acting assistant attorney general and head of the Office of Legal Counsel, asserted that the administration had an obligation to comply with requests from committee chairs in the House and Senate, but not "individual members, including ranking minority members."

Grassley sharply rebuked this view in a letter to President Donald Trump that was released publicly on June 9.

The OLC opinion "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 wrote. "This is nonsense," he added.

Grassley complained that OLC demonstrated "a shocking lack of professionalism and objectivity" in arguing that there is a constitutional basis for ignoring oversight requests, and told Trump, "you are being ill-served and ill-advised."

The 7-page letter rebuts the notion that OLC can make arguments on behalf of the legislative branch and offers a clinic on how minority party members are included both in the compulsory production of documents and witnesses through the subpoena process and voluntary requests for information from the administration.

"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 wrote. "Oversight brings transparency, and transparency brings accountability."

In addition to Grassley's missive, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee also objected to the opinion. In a letter to acting GSA Administrator Timothy Horne, a group of lawmakers led by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the committee, called the OLC opinion "flawed in many ways," but also noted that "even taking it at face value, GSA must comply with requests submitted under the statutory Seven Member Rule."

That authority, noted Cummings, is enshrined in a 1928 law which requires agencies to submit information on any matter under the Oversight committee's jurisdiction provided that seven members of the committee submit the request.

Cummings' letter warned, "compliance with federal law is not an optional exercise that may be overridden by a new Trump Administration policy."

Cummings and his Democratic colleagues are seeking correspondence and documents between GSA and Trump's Washington, D.C. hotel which is housed in a government-owned building. Specifically, Cummings wants more information on revenues and expenses generated by the hotel, correspondence about funds generated by the hotel from foreign sources.  

Additionally, a lawsuit filed against President Trump on June 12 could force the release of such information through the discovery process.   The attorneys general for the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland claim the president "has violated -- and will continue to violate -- the ... Emoluments Clause" by refusing to divest from his business holdings.  Maryland Attorney General Brian Froch told the Washington Post that "we’ll need to see [Trump's] financial records, his taxes that he has refused to release." 

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