Jason Chaffetz: Dems demand Trump advisers testify before Congress, but excused Obama advisers

Feigning shock at what he called "part of a pattern" of "unprecedented cover-ups," House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., this week bemoaned the failure of White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway to show up for a congressional hearing.

This is part of a pattern all right, but perhaps not the one Cummings is hoping voters will see. The Trump administration is exercising a privilege routinely enjoyed by previous administrations – and exercised with impunity by President Obama.



"The appearance of a senior presidential adviser before Congress threatens the independence and autonomy of the president," according to the White House counsel. Not President Trump's counsel. President Obama's.

Neil Eggleston made that comment in May 2016 after I invited Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes to come testify. He had been out talking to the media about the Iran nuclear deal.

Before Trump, I'd never seen a president give so much access to people when he didn't have to. In the report on Benghazi, Hillary Clinton didn't provide that much access even when we had four Americans dead.

The New York Times Magazine, in a profile of Rhodes, had portrayed the aspiring novelist bragging about having misled reporters on the Iran deal. He claimed to have promoted a narrative he knew to be untrue and relied on inexperienced reporters in the "echo chamber" to report it as fact. I wanted him to come before Congress and explain himself.

We invited Rhodes, but he refused. When we threatened him with a subpoena, Eggleston said there was a separation of powers issue. He was right. We dropped it.

The president does have executive privilege. The exercise of that privilege does not equate to a cover up. Yet this week, we have Cummings threatening to hold Conway in contempt of Congress for exercising a right routinely invoked by the Obama administration without a peep of dissent from Cummings.

Forcing presidential advisers to testify about their work in the White House would have chilling effect moving forward. That's why, until now, both sides have refused to do this. You want the president’s senior advisers to advise him with candor.

It is different for a Cabinet secretary or someone actually confirmed by the Senate. But the president's personal advisers are not obligated to disclose internal deliberations. Democrats know this. They even agree with it.

Yet they continue this charade of calling up witnesses they know cannot testify in an effort to create a false narrative of obstruction and cover-up. There is no precedent for holding people like Conway in contempt for failing to testify before Congress.

Voters should be skeptical when they see Democrats take to the fainting couch over Conway's absence at a hearing she was not required to attend. Don't be fooled by the fact that they have a willing media to go along with the charade. Salon Magazine referred to Conway's absence at the hearing as "a pattern of defiance" – as if there was something unprecedented about White House advisers refusing to testify.

Complicit media have shown a willingness to perpetuate this false narrative. Given any amount of research, the narrative would prove false. When Democrats and their media allies feign exasperation, it misinforms the public and reinforces the notion of fake news.

The media never wrote these kinds of stories during the Obama administration. Yet now, under this administration, invoking executive privilege is suddenly a constitutional crisis.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Cummings and others know exactly what they're doing. They're just manipulating the daily news cycle to create this drumbeat that is unfair, unprecedented, and unrealistic.

In reality, the Trump administration has been the very model of transparency compared to what I dealt with during eight years of the Obama administration.

President Trump’s cooperation with the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller stands in stark contrast to the botched Accountability Review Board investigation of Benghazi.

Before Trump, I'd never seen a president give so much access to people when he didn't have to. In the report on Benghazi, Hillary Clinton didn't provide that much access even when we had four Americans dead.


Perhaps Democrats should take the advice of former Obama White House spokesman Eric Schultz, who told reporters during the dust-up with Ben Rhodes that "with all the serious issues stuck in Congress right now – like preparing for Zika's arrival, helping Puerto Rico through their financial crisis, providing assistance to the people of Flint, or combating the opioid epidemic – it is a shame that Chairman Chaffetz is choosing to ... distract from all the work they should be doing."