WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Tuesday that political adviser David Simas would not answer a subpoena to appear on Wednesday before a congressional oversight committee, saying he was immune from being compelled to testify.
Republican Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the House of Representatives' Oversight and Government Reform Committee, subpoenaed Simas last week to testify about how his office complies with the Hatch Act, a law that forbids most federal government employees from engaging in partisan political activity.
Simas is director of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach. Recent presidents, both Democratic and Republican, have all had at least one top political adviser in a position similar to that of Simas.
The Obama administration had contested the subpoena, with White House counsel Neil Eggleston writing to Issa on Monday that it was "precipitate and surprising in light of our clear willingness to work with you to meet your informational needs."
In a follow-up letter to Issa on Tuesday, Eggleston wrote that the committee's effort to compel Simas's testimony threatened the executive branch's long-standing interest 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."
"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," the letter added.
Eggleston also said that Issa had made no effort to justify his "extraordinary demand that one of the president's immediate advisers testify at a committee hearing."
Issa rejected the White House's arguments, saying a previous court ruling had found that senior advisers to the president were not immune from congressional procedures such as Issa's.
“This hearing seeks to examine a political office embedded within the White House which, under Democratic and Republican administrations, has had a controversial role of coordinating political campaign activity for the president at taxpayer expense," Issa said in a statement.
"Assertions that this administration’s taxpayer-funded political efforts should be above congressional oversight are absurd," he said, adding that the hearing would go forward as planned.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Peter Cooney; Editing by Nick Macfie)