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DOJ determined the executive branch does not have to respond to congressional requests from individual members

Democratic leadership is unhappy with the decision

CNN  — 

Attention Democrats on Capitol Hill searching for an answer to an oversight request: The Trump administration has determined it has no legal obligation to respond.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has determined executive branch agencies have no legal obligation to respond to congressional requests for information from individual members, including ranking minority lawmakers, according to an internal opinion released this week.

“Individual members of Congress, including ranking minority members, do not have the authority to conduct oversight in the absence of a specific delegation by a full house, committee, or subcommittee,” wrote Acting Assistant Attorney General Curtis Gannon. “They may request information from the Executive Branch, which may respond at its discretion, but such requests do not trigger any obligation to accommodate congressional needs and are not legally enforceable through a subpoena or contempt proceedings.”

Democratic leadership blasted the decision Friday.

“The White House’s attempted gag order is the latest and most egregious attempt by the President to hide the truth from the American people,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “With this order, President Trump is making his disregard for transparency and his lack of respect for Congress’s oversight role crystal clear. Since day one, the Administration has refused to respond to hundreds of requests from Democrats on a range of issues critical to the health and security of the American people.”

The top Democrat on the House oversight committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings – who has sent out dozens of letters since January on everything ranging from ethics concerns to the Russia investigation – said in a statement to CNN, “This is not what democracy looks like.”

“We cannot do our jobs if the Trump Administration adopts this unprecedented new policy of refusing to provide any information to Congress unless a request is backed by the implicit threat of a subpoena,” Cummings added. “This has never been the standard for responding to congressional inquiries – and it should not take the threat of a subpoena to pry information free from this Administration.”

The OLC opinion does, however, state “(w)hether it is appropriate to respond to requests from individual members will depend on the circumstances,” noting that agencies have complied with requests when not overly burdensome and where it provides an opportunity to “correct misperceptions.”