White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defied a congressional subpoena demanding her testimony Monday on instructions from President Trump, raising the likelihood the House Oversight and Reform Committee will soon vote to hold her in contempt.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone notified the committee in a letter Monday that Trump had directed Conway to evade the appearance, arguing that she is immune from mandated congressional testimony about her work in the West Wing.
“The long-standing principle of immunity for senior advisers to the President is firmly rooted in the Constitution’s separation of powers and protects the core functions of the Presidency,” Cipollone wrote to Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Monday.
“We are adhering to this well-established precedent in order to ensure that future Presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the Office of the President,” Cipollone wrote.
The committee convened briefly for the hearing Monday afternoon without Conway. Cummings said he would schedule a business meeting on July 25 to vote to hold Conway in contempt if she does not appear for testimony.
“We hope Ms. Conway will reconsider,” Cummings said in opening remarks. “Our goal is to hear from Ms. Conway. If she does not change course, we have no choice but to hold her accountable.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the committee’s top Republican, called the hearing “pure politics” and part of an effort “to silence one of the president’s top advisers.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham accused Democrats on the committee of waging a “purely political campaign to harass the President and his close advisers.”
“Democrats continue to overreach and politicize the Office of Special Counsel — this time, by trying to silence Kellyanne Conway with ill-founded, phony allegations about the Hatch Act,” Grisham said in a statement, asserting that the committee “clearly knows” Conway cannot be compelled for congressional testimony.
The panel subpoenaed Conway last month to testify at 4 p.m. Monday after she did not show up voluntarily at a hearing focused on her alleged violations of the Hatch Act. The White House similarly blocked Conway from attending the hearing last month.
The White House has asserted immunity to prevent other current and former officials from appearing before Congress or otherwise limit their testimony, including former White House counsel Don McGahn and former communications director Hope Hicks.
The developments have severely ratcheted up tensions between the executive branch and Congress over House Democrats’ investigations. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is expected to go to court soon to civilly enforce the subpoena for documents and testimony from McGahn.
The concept of immunity has been invoked by various Democratic and Republican administrations, but there is virtually no settled case law on the subject.
The Oversight panel sought Conway’s testimony after the Office of Special Counsel issued a report to Trump in June stating Conway repeatedly violated the Hatch Act, which bars federal officials from commenting on elections in their official government capacity.
The White House and Conway have rejected the findings and argued the report violate her First Amendment rights.