New House bill would force former Trump officials to testify in investigations

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The legislation would give inspectors general the ability to subpoena officials who no longer work in the federal government.

A trio of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill on Friday that would let inspectors general subpoena former government officials in their probes, ensuring officials would not be able to avoid testifying in investigations simply because they are no longer employed by the federal government.

If signed into law, it would mean inspectors general would have teeth to compel testimony from former Trump administration officials in any of their ongoing investigations — something at least one inspector general has asked for.

Department of Justice inspector general Michael Horowitz said he could not interview Jeff Sessions, Trump's former attorney general, as part of his probe into the zero tolerance policy that led children to be separated from their parents at the border. The investigation ended up finding that Sessions was at fault for children being separated from their parents — hundreds of whom have still not been reunited with their families.

"Unfortunately, the [Office of the Inspector General] was not able to interview former Attorney General Jeff Sessions as part of this review because he left the Department shortly after the initiation of our review," Horowitz said at a House Oversight Committee hearing on the zero tolerance policy last month.

Horowitz added: "As this Committee is aware, the OIG does not have the ability to compel the testimony of former Department employees. This has been a perennial problem for the OIG in connection with many of our reviews and investigations, and one that this Committee previously sought to address on a bipartisan basis."

The lawmakers who introduced the legislation — Reps. Carolyn Maloney of New York, Jimmy Gomez of California, and Gerry Connolly of Virginia — said they introduced the legislation in part because former Trump administration officials have been able to avoid testifying in investigations.

The lawmakers pointed to a probe of former Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, where this same issue arose. The DOT inspector general concluded that Chao improperly used her official position to promote her family business, and even referred the matter to the DOJ for criminal investigation — however, the DOJ declined to do so. Chao is the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Connolly said in a news release announcing the introduction of the bill:

Last month the Department of Justice Inspector General testified before our Committee that the status quo allowed former Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions to avoid questions from investigators about his role in separating children from their parents at the border. Inspectors General need testimonial subpoena authority to hold former officials accountable for their actions and the consequences of their policy decisions. We cannot allow individuals to escape accountability or hide critical information simply by leaving federal service.

A similar bill passed the House in 2018 by a voice vote. Voice votes do not require members of Congress to cast a recorded yea or nay vote on a bill, and are reserved for uncontroversial pieces of legislation that have bipartisan support.

However, the bill never received a vote in the Senate then, as it was led by Mitch McConnell.

"Former government officials and other parties with information that could help an investigation should not be able to hide from their responsibility to cooperate with an IG," Maloney said in a news release. "At a time when multiple former officials have refused to comply with IG investigations, this bill would grant the government's independent watchdogs a critical tool in ensuring transparency and accountability."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.