Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Back in June, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was ready to vote on whether to hold U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and Office of Management and Budget’s Susan Dudley in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over documents related to the controversial decisions on smog and California’s request for an emissions waiver. At the last minute, though, the White House blocked the committee’s subpoenas for the documents, claiming executive privilege, and Oversight Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) postponed the contempt vote so his committee could determine whether this claim of executive privilege is valid.

Yesterday, the committee released a draft report [PDF] of their finding, which, unsurprisingly, concludes that “the President’s assertion of executive privilege is wrong and an abuse of the privilege.” Here’s more from the report, which Waxman is circulating:

Congress has a compelling legislative and oversight need for documents withheld from the Committee. The documents withheld pursuant to the President’s assertion of executive privilege are critical to determining the role of the White House in Administrator Johnson’s waiver and ozone decisions, whether White House actions with respect to these decisions were in compliance with Clean Air Act requirements, and whether any additional legislation is necessary to ensure the goals of the Act are effectuated properly in the future.

The President’s assertion of executive privilege covers is expansive. It covers any communications that occurred within the White House, no matter how attenuated the connection between the staff authoring the communications and the presidential decision-making process. At the same time, the Administration has barred a key EPA official from responding to Committee questions about these communications and has refused to provide the Committee basic information about the authorship and distribution of the documents that would enable the Committee to assess the merits of the privilege claim and whether further accommodations could be achieved. The assertion of executive privilege under these circumstances has stymied the Committee’s investigation of the waiver and ozone decisions.

The full report, and supporting documents, are available on the committee’s website. The full committee will examine the reports next week.