WASHINGTON -- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) conceded Friday that, despite his weeks-long effort to subpoena White House political adviser David Simas to testify before his committee, there is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Simas' office.
Issa said during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which he chairs, that he's not demanding that Simas testify because he thinks the White House Office of Political Affairs has inappropriately engaged in political campaign activities. Rather, Issa said, it's the potential for that office to overstep the line in the future that he wants to examine.
"We are accusing neither the president nor this four-person office of any wrongdoing," Issa said, adding, "I allege no wrongdoing."
Issa has been scuffling with the White House for weeks over his demand that Simas testify about his office's work in the context of the Hatch Act, a law that prohibits federal workers from engaging in partisan political activities. The White House ignored Issa's subpoena last week, claiming that Simas has immunity since his office hasn't done anything wrong. In the meantime, administration officials met with Issa's committee staff for more than an hour to answer their questions, and a special investigator's office concluded there is no evidence that Simas' team has broken any laws.
But Issa has signaled that isn't enough. Before adjourning Friday's hearing, he called for a vote on a resolution stating that the committee rejects the White House's claim that Simas is immune from the committee's subpoena. The resolution passed on a party-line vote, 19-14. It's unclear what happens now.
Issa said he is trying to drive home the point that the Obama administration is not "above the law" when it comes to oversight. He cited a number of top Democrats who made that same case during the Bush administration, when President George W. Bush asserted that his top aides were immune from congressional subpoenas.
"I expect Mr. Simas to face the consequences" of failing to comply with a subpoena, Issa said.
But Democrats pointed to a key difference between Issa's latest subpoena and Democrats subpoenaing top Bush officials in 2007: back then, there was actual evidence of inappropriate activity involving the U.S. Attorney scandal.
"You're trying to cut off and have a chilling effect on that communication between a presidential adviser and a president, with no allegation of wrongdoing whatsoever. That's what you're trying to do here," Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) told Issa. "That's bad for any president, not only this president."
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) slammed Issa for leading "a fishing expedition" over the White House political office, which has an budget of about $1 million, when there are legitimate scandals the committee should be investigating that involve hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars being lost to fraud instead.
"Two and a half months ago, I sent to the chairman of this committee a letter asking him to start an investigation ... on Health Management Associates, which has already ripped off the taxpayers of this country by $600 million in Medicare and Medicare fraud," Speier said, referring to a case also being looked at by the Justice Department.
"Are we doing anything to look at something as important as that issue? Oh no. We want to investigate the president's $1 million political office to see whether or not the funds are being used for a political or a governmental purpose," she said. "This is a mockery, and I stand with my colleagues objecting to it."