WASHINGTON -- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) isn't dropping his subpoena to compel a top White House official to testify before his committee on Wednesday, despite an extensive briefing on Tuesday between administration officials and committee staff aimed at resolving the matter.
In a letter to White House counsel Neil Eggleston, Issa wrote that David Simas, director of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, must still testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in its hearing on the scope of White House political activities. Issa, who chairs the committee, sent the letter after Democratic and GOP staff huddled with White House Counsel staff for more than an hour -- a meeting the White House called in an effort to answer committee questions while demonstrating there is no need for Simas to testify.
The briefing didn't appear to satisfy Issa, who, like other lawmakers on the committee, wasn't in the staff-level meeting.
"Mr. Simas is still under subpoena and is expected to appear at tomorrow’s hearing," Issa wrote. "I believe his on-the-record testimony will provide valuable insight into White House efforts to ensure appropriate use of taxpayer funds."
It's unclear whether the White House will defy Issa's demand or send Simas to testify. A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. (See UPDATE below.)
It's also unclear what will happen if Simas doesn't show and Issa persists with his subpoena. It's possible that a court could be pulled into the matter and force his testimony, which was the case in 2008 when President George W. Bush was overruled in his assertion that his top aides were immune from congressional subpoenas. But in that case, there was some evidence of inappropriate activity, which was related to the U.S. Attorney scandal.
Issa announced Friday that he was subpoenaing Simas to testify on the Hatch Act, a law that restricts political activity by members of the executive branch. The California Republican has alleged that members of President Barack Obama's cabinet have violated the law, but the White House has denied any wrongdoing by Simas' office.
"There's not really any evidence to indicate that there's a reason for Mr. Simas to appear before Congress," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Friday. "Not even a shred of evidence."
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on Issa's committee, said even GOP staff in Tuesday's briefing conceded that they got to ask all the questions they had.
"At the conclusion of the briefing, the Republican staffer leading the meeting thanked the White House and said, 'That’s all the questions I have,'" according to materials provided by Cummings' office. "This afternoon, Chairman Issa sent a letter to the White House stating: 'The briefing provided to Committee staff today, while helpful and appreciated, did not answer all questions.'"
"It's bad enough that Chairman Issa issued a unilateral subpoena to a senior advisor to the President with absolutely no debate or vote by the Committee, but in this case, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Mr. Simas or anyone on his staff did anything wrong," Cummings said in a statement. "There seems to be no reason to continue this ridiculous confrontation other than to manufacture false controversy as Chairman Issa's tenure comes to an end."
Including Simas' subpoena, Issa has now issued 99 subpoenas since becoming the committee chairman -- more than all three previous committee chairmen combined.
UPDATE: 7:45 p.m. -- Simas is immune from a congressional subpoena and will not appear for Wednesday's hearing, Eggleston said in a Tuesday night letter to Issa.
"The Committee's effort to compel Mr. Simas' testimony threatens longstanding interests of the Executive Branch in preserving the President's independence and autonomy, as well as his ability to obtain candid advice and counsel to aid him in the discharge of his constitutional duties," Eggleston writes. "In light of those principles ... Mr. Simas is immune from congressional compulsion to testify on matters relating to his official duties and will not appear at the July 16, 2014 hearing."