Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat, represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the House, where he is the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform.
In November, the American people voted overwhelmingly to put Democrats in charge of the House of Representatives to start serving as a truly independent check and balance on the executive branch. Since then, President Trump and his allies have complained of “Presidential Harassment,” decrying Democrats for having the audacity to request documents and witnesses to fulfill our constitutional responsibilities.
The problem is that the White House is engaged in an unprecedented level of stonewalling, delay and obstruction.
I serve as chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, the primary investigative body in the House of Representatives. I have sent 12 letters to the White House on a half-dozen topics — some routine and some relating to our core national security interests. In response, the White House has refused to hand over any documents or produce any witnesses for interviews.
Let me underscore that point: The White House has not turned over a single piece of paper to our committee or made a single official available for testimony during the 116th Congress.
One of the most important investigations we are conducting is a review of White House security clearances. The White House argues that Congress is not entitled to any information about individual employees, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying about his communications with the Russians; current national security adviser John Bolton, who worked directly with the gun rights group founded by now-convicted Russian spy Maria Butina; or the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was reportedly given access to our nation’s most sensitive secrets over the objections of then-White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and others.
Instead, the White House offered to let us read — but not keep — a few pages of policy documents that have nothing to do with the officials we are investigating, along with a general briefing on those policies during which they will answer no questions about specific employees.
We are also examining the president’s “hush money” payments to silence women alleging affairs before the election, as well as the president’s failure to divulge these payments on his financial disclosure forms, as required by federal law. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen provided copies of reimbursement checks signed long after Trump became president during our hearing with him, but the White House has refused to turn over any of the documents we requested. Instead, officials let us read 30 pages, about half of which were already public or entirely blacked out.
The White House has also refused to produce any documents or witnesses in response to our other investigations, including White House officials’ alleged use of personal email in violation of federal law; allegations that the president may have violated the Presidential Records Act by destroying documents; and reports from whistleblowers that the administration allegedly rushed to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in violation of the Atomic Energy Act.
The White House is also refusing to provide documents relating to less high-profile issues, such as the use of taxpayer funds to pay for lavish private aircraft. Former health and human services secretary Tom Price had to write his own checks to reimburse the American taxpayers for his wasteful spending, but White House officials on some of those same flights, such as Kellyanne Conway, have refused to provide the documents we need to complete our review.
As a reminder of what used to be “normal,” previous presidential administrations turned over tens of thousands of pages of documents in response to Oversight Committee investigations under both parties just a few years ago. The George W. Bush White House gave us more than 20,000 pages relating to Hurricane Katrina; numerous documents and witnesses relating to the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity; and nearly 1,500 pages of emails between senior White House officials about the death of Pat Tillman. Similarly, the Obama White House produced many documents and emails relating to the Solyndra controversy, as well as witnesses and documents regarding the Benghazi, Libya, attacks, including communication between top White House officials and National Security Council staff.
By contrast, the complete refusal by the Trump White House to produce any documents or witnesses to the primary investigative committee in the House reflects a decision at the highest levels to deny congressional oversight altogether. The president dictated this approach the day after the election when he threatened a “warlike posture” against Democrats and then vowed that, at the end of two years, “I’m just going to blame them.”
President Trump’s actions violate our Constitution’s fundamental principle of checks and balances. If our committee must resort to issuing subpoenas, there should be no doubt about why. This has nothing to do with presidential harassment and everything to do with unprecedented obstruction.