A former White House official defied a subpoena.
A top former government official has defied a subpoena from the U.S. House of Representatives, potentially setting up contempt proceedings.
Andrew Slavitt, who served in 2021 as a senior adviser to President Joe Biden, refused to appear on Jan. 31 pursuant to the subpoena, according to letters reviewed by The Epoch Times.
One letter came from White House lawyer Richard Sauber, who told Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) that the White House “cannot authorize” Mr. Slavitt to appear under the subpoena.
Mr. Sauber said that there are “serious legal and constitutional concerns” about Mr. Slavitt testifying. Because the House Judiciary Committee, of which Mr. Jordan is the chairman, refused to let White House attorneys accompany Mr. Slavitt to the closed-door testimony, the White House advised Mr. Slavitt not to appear.
Mr. Slavitt traveled from California to Washington at his own expense with plans to testify to the panel but after learning of the White House’s position, he “unfortunately cannot do so,” Michael Bopp, an attorney representing Mr. Slavitt, wrote in another missive to Mr. Jordan.
The letters came on the same day Mr. Slavitt was supposed to testify.
A spokesman for Mr. Jordan confirmed to The Epoch Times via email that Mr. Slavitt did not appear.
“Everything is on the table as to what comes next,” the spokesman said when asked whether the panel is planning to move to hold Mr. Slavitt in contempt.
The White House and Mr. Bopp did not respond to requests for comment.
Department of Justice Supports Defiance
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) backs Mr. Slavitt’s defiance of the subpoena, according to the White House.
“The Department of Justice has advised me that the committee may not validly require Mr. Slavitt to appear for a deposition outside the presence of government counsel,” Mr. Sauber said in a letter to Mr. Bopp. “This advice is consistent with prior guidance issued by the department in response to congressional subpoenas seeking testimony as to potentially privileged information.”
The DOJ declined to comment.
“The subpoena issued by the committee prohibits the attendance of government counsel at an appearance where the committee has indicated it will ask questions regarding, among other topics, Mr. Slavitt’s interactions with the president and other senior administration officials, and confidential information Mr. Slavitt learned and actions undertaken within the scope of his official duties, including potentially privileged information,” Mr. Sauber said.
He said the White House does not authorize Mr. Slavitt to appear.
He also indicated to Mr. Jordan that the White House also supports Rob Flaherty, the White House director of digital strategy, not complying with a subpoena if government lawyers cannot attend while he answers questions.
Mr. Sauber said that the DOJ will not prosecute if Congress does move to hold Mr. Slavitt in contempt.
“The department has advised me of its position that Mr. Slavitt cannot be prosecuted for contempt of Congress, punished through the use of any inherent congressional contempt authority, or held liable in a civil enforcement action for failing to appear at his scheduled deposition,” Mr. Sauber informed Mr. Bopp.
Other Contempt Updates
The DOJ prosecuted two officials who worked in President Donald Trump’s administration and defied congressional subpoenas.
Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro violated federal law by failing to appear pursuant to subpoenas, DOJ prosecutors said in indictments filed after the House voted to hold the former officials in contempt.
Both Mr. Bannon and Mr. Navarro said they did not appear because of executive privilege concerns. President Biden said he waived all privilege claims for former officials being questioned by the committee that issued the subpoenas, which was convened to explore the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol.
“Allowing a sitting president of one political party to strip a predecessor of another political party of executive privilege and likewise strip senior White House advisors serving that predecessor of their testimonial immunity … represents the most extreme and dangerous form of qualifying the privilege and the testimonial immunity,” Mr. Navarro said in one filing.
Juries later convicted Mr. Bannon and Mr. Navarro of contempt.
Republicans took control of the House in early 2023. They have not yet voted to hold any Biden administration officials in contempt.
Federal law makes it a misdemeanor crime to refuse to testify or produce papers “upon any matter under inquiry before either House, or any joint committee established by a joint or concurrent resolution of the two Houses of Congress, or any committee of either House of Congress.” Each count carries a fine of up to $1,000 and a term of imprisonment of one to 12 months.