White House Blocks Congressional Party Crasher Testimony
In yet another example of a change of administrations not leading to a change in behavior, the Obama White House is refusing to allow Congress to question the social secretary on the matter of the “party crashers.”
The White House on Wednesday invoked the separation of powers to keep Desiree Rogers, President Obama’s social secretary, from testifying on Capitol Hill about how a couple of aspiring reality television show celebrities crashed a state dinner for the prime minister of India last week.
Earlier Wednesday at his regular briefing with reporters, Mr. Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said Ms. Rogers would not testify. “I think you know that, based on separation of powers, staff here don’t go to testify in front of Congress,’’ he said. “She won’t — she will not be testifying in front of Congress.’’
Mr. Gibbs also said the flap over the unauthorized intruders has prompted the White House to change its procedures; from now on, a representative of the social secretary’s office will be stationed at Secret Service checkpoints for major social events in case questions arise. The White House deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, conducted a review and issued a directive to the staff. “After reviewing our actions, it is clear that the White House did not do everything we could have done to assist the United States Secret Service in ensuring that only invited guests enter the complex,’’ Mr. Messina wrote in the memo, posted on the White House web site late Wednesday afternoon. “White House staff were walking back and forth outside between the check points helping guests and were available to the Secret Service throughout the evening, but clearly we can do more, and we will do more.’’
The memo was the first admission by the White House of failures on the part of its own staff, and it came as scrutiny intensified on the social office and Ms. Rogers, its director. The House Homeland Security Committee is conducting a hearing on Thursday into the security lapse; Representative Peter T. King of New York, who is the senior Republican on the panel, had wanted Ms. Rogers to testify and criticized the administration for not allowing her to be a witness.
White Houses have often tried to prevent top advisers to the president from testifying on Capitol Hill; the Bush administration worked assiduously to prevent Karl Rove, the top political strategist to former President George W. Bush, from talking to lawmakers under oath about the firing of federal prosecutors. That sparked an intense fight between the Bush administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Now, it is the Republicans’ turn to balk. Mr. King on Wednesday called Ms. Rogers’ decision not to testify “stonewalling” that would cause an “unnecessary confrontation with Congress.” “I don’t want the Secret Service to be taking the hit here, what went wrong was the responsibility of the White House,” he said, adding, “for them not to be here just raises real questions.”
It’s rather routine for a White House to refuse to allow Congress to question staff members — who are not subject to confirmation or oversight — under oath as a matter of principle. Congress generally balks but allows it to pass; that’s especially likely with both institutions controlled by the same political party, as is now the case.
Presumably, some sort of compromise will be worked out where Rogers offers information but does not testify under oath. While the incident is no doubt an opportunity for grandstanding, Congress has a legitimate interest in conducting oversight into the operations of the Secret Service and ensuring the safety of the President of the United States. Surely, there’s a way to do that without revealing the legitimately internal business of the Executive Office of the Presidency.