In a seven-page letter addressed to President Donald Trump and dated June 7, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley accused the executive branch’s Office of Legal Council (OLC) of attempting to “insulate the executive branch from scrutiny by the elected representatives of the American people.”
The letter, written by Grassley and sent on behalf of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, refers to a May 1 OLC opinion — authored by Acting Assistant Attorney General Curtis E. Gannon — which argues that the executive branch need only respond to information requests from committees or their chairs (denoting such requests as being “constitutionally authorized”), whereas inquiries from non-chairmen should only pertain to matters that do not involve oversight.
“This is nonsense,” Grassley said. “The Constitution does not mention committees or chairmen at all. The committee structure in Congress is simply how the legislative branch has chosen to internally organize itself.”
Grassley, the current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says this ad hoc structure is the result of the high volume and complexity of legislative work, and withholding information from those who are not committee chairs is arbitrary and unconstitutional.
“Unless Congress explicitly tells the executive branch to withhold information based on committee membership or leadership position, there is no legal or constitutional basis for the executive branch to do so,” he said.
Without access to information held by the executive branch, Grassley says that Congress cannot legislate effectively or “help assure the American people that their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent wisely.” He argues that the executive branch should work to cooperate “in good faith with all congressional requests to the fullest extent possible.”
Throughout the letter, Grassley stresses the importance of transparency, at one point referring to Trump’s own verbiage.
“Oversight brings transparency, and transparency brings accountability. And, the opposite is true,” Grassley said, noting that he also faced difficulties receiving answers to his requests during the Obama administration. “Shutting down oversight requests doesn’t drain the swamp, Mr. President. It floods the swamp.”
Grassley ends the letter by calling on the OLC to rescind its May 1 policy of ignoring information requests from non-chairmen, saying the policy hurts both majority and minority parties alike.