Rep. Grijalva: House panel considering subpoenas for Interior information
Chairman Raúl Grijalva said on Friday Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee are considering issuing subpoenas to obtain information from the Interior Department that officials there have declined to provide.
“Those are discussions that are occurring, but I can’t give you a timeline or if we have an okay from everybody at this point,” Grijalva told POLITICO.
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Since taking control of the House, Democrats have complained that the Trump administration has refused to provide information needed for them to conduct oversight. Grijalva has said Interior officials have been unresponsive to his requests for information on the agency’s restructuring that it filed in 2017 with the White House, as well as documents about its handling of public information requests.
Multiple Natural Resources subcommittee chairmen expressed openness toward ratcheting up the pressure through subpoenas and other tactics to address what they saw as stonewalling by the agency. It’s also a sign, they said, that the Trump administration’s resistance to congressional oversight extends beyond high-profile issues such as Russia investigation and the President Donald Trump’s taxes.
The Interior Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Senior Democrats on the committee said they want to take more aggressive action. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), chairman of the Indigenous Peoples of the United States Subcommittee, said the panel should consider everything from subpoenas to fines, jail time and contempt orders to get the information.
“If they’re not going to comply, we have to find a way for us to make them comply, largely because we have to preserve this idea of separation of powers and checks and balances,” he said.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee said he would defer to Grijalva on a decision to issue subpoenas, but expressed frustration with the department’s current tack.
“This is a categorical flouting of Congress’ Article I authority with every committee on every issue from every agency across the board. We’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.
Secretary David Bernhardt visited with dozens of lawmakers last week ahead of a May 15 committee hearing. Democrats say that session will go a long way toward determining what sort of relationship they’ll have with Interior moving forward.
“It’s going to be a tense conversation,” Huffman said, citing his concerns about “red flags” around Bernhardt’s ethics since joining the Interior Department.
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), chairman of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, said he met with Bernhardt last week but vowed to press the oversight issue aggressively at the upcoming hearing.
“We’ve provided him a significant number of letters and requests and things to respond to. We get nothing back,” he said. “I’m going to push him on all those things.”
A Natural Resources Committee Democratic spokesperson declined on Friday to specify which information requests were still outstanding.
Bernhardt attended a hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee earlier this week, and Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget Scott Cameron testified last month at Natural Resources committee. But Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director Scott Angelle and Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani both skipped earlier oversight hearings that they were invited to attend.
Interior has also brushed off Oversight’s requests to make four senior staff available for interviews regarding allegations that Bernhardt has not cataloged more than a hundred days of activity on his official calendar.
Bernhardt told the Appropriation panel on Tuesday he did not believe it was “the appropriate time for interviews.” The House Oversight Committee earlier this week threatened to withhold salaries from department officials who block employees from attending committee interviews.
Oversight also complained that while Interior sent tens of thousands of document pages in response to a committee request, the documents were mostly unrelated to the matter.