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Oversight Democrats Challenge New Trump Administration Policy on Refusing Democratic Inquiries

Jun 5, 2017
Press Release

Oversight Democrats Challenge New Trump Administration Policy on Refusing Democratic Inquiries

 

Invoke “Seven Member Rule” Under 89-Year-Old Statute  To Demand Documents Relating to Trump Hotel

 

Washington, D.C. (June 5, 2017)—Today, all 18 Democratic Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ramped up their fight against the Trump Administration’s new policy of refusing to comply with any Democratic oversight requests by invoking the statutory “Seven Member Rule” in a letter to the General Services Administration (GSA) demanding complete, unredacted copies of documents relating to its lease agreement with President Donald Trump’s company for the Washington D.C. hotel in the Old Post Office.

Last week, the Trump Administration released an opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel arguing that agencies could ignore requests from Members of Congress other than Republican Committee Chairmen, asserting that authority to conduct oversight “may be exercised only by each house of Congress or, under existing delegations, by committee and subcommittees (or their chairmen)” and that individual Members “do not have the authority to conduct oversight in the absence of a specific delegation by a full house, committee, or subcommittee.”

In their letter today, the Democrats strongly objected to this new policy, but pointed out that the Seven Member Rule is unique authority that was in fact passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the President in 1928, explicitly delegating authority for any seven members of the Oversight Committee to require any executive agency to “submit any information requested of it relating to any matter within the jurisdiction of the committee.”

“This opinion is flawed in many ways, but even taking it at face value, GSA must comply with requests submitted under the statutory Seven Member Rule,” the Members wrote.  “The Seven Member Rule is not a regulation or guideline, but a statute that was passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President.  Although you may wish to limit oversight from Democratic Members of Congress through a misguided policy that responds only to Republican Chairmen, compliance with federal law is not an optional exercise that may be overridden by a new Trump Administration policy.” 

During the Obama Administration, GSA explicitly recognized and complied with a request for documents under the statutory Seven Member Rule regarding the Old Post Office lease agreement.  GSA produced a wide range of documents—in unredacted form—including an amendment to the lease, a 2017 budget estimate, exhibits to the lease, and monthly income statements for the Trump International Hotel.  The Obama Administration similarly complied with a Seven Member Rule request to the State Department.

In the first weeks of the Trump Administration, GSA had informed the Committee in a letter on February 6, 2017, that it acknowledged the authority of Committee Members to obtain information under the Seven Member Rule:  “Should the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform or any seven members thereof submit a request pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 2954, GSA will review any such request.” 

In light of last week’s announcement of the Trump Administration’s new policy, the Members wrote today:  “Your actions to date are not only a reversal of previous Executive Branch policy and a direct impediment to authorized congressional oversight, but a violation of the statute passed by Congress creating the Seven Member Rule and explicitly delegating this authority to Members of the Oversight Committee.”

Click here to read today’s letter.

 

115th Congress