Goodlatte, staff under fire for work on Trump immigration executive order

bob goodlatteRemember when Bob Goodlatte was concerned about executive overreach and the separation of powers? That was so Obama era.

“While President Obama may have forgotten, the American people know that it is Congress who writes our laws, not the White House.”

This was Goodlatte, the Sixth District Republican, in a column published in Augusta Free Press last May.

“The people’s duly elected representatives in Congress cannot sit silent as the Executive Branch continues to overstep its constitutional authority.”

This was Goodlatte, also the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, in another column published in AFP in March 2016.

More from that one, which concerned a lawsuit filed in Texas to challenge then-President Obama’s executive orders on immigration:

“Congress writes the laws, and the President enforces them. Our own constitutionally-required oath to support the Constitution of the United States requires no less. By voicing our support for the states’ lawsuit against the President’s power grabs, the House is acting to protect Congress’ constitutional powers and defend freedoms for future generations. The stakes of inaction are high. We must protect the people’s rights, we must protect the people’s House, and we must protect the Constitution of the United States.”

Now Goodlatte is embroiled in controversy for what he knew and what he didn’t know about the role his staffers played in collaborating with the Trump administration on the wording of the executive order signed by Trump temporarily banning refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

A senior administration official told reporters on Sunday that that “Republicans on Capitol Hill wrote” the order and “the top drafters of this were the top immigration experts on Capitol Hill.”

Goodlatte told congressional Republicans incensed to learn that his staff had helped craft the order without their knowledge at a private GOP conference meeting on Monday that he had given the staff permission to advise the transition team, but to his knowledge the staffers only offered policy advice and did not know anything about the timing of the executive order or its final contents.

The congressman expanded on those points in a public statement on Tuesday.

“My staff on the House Judiciary Committee are some of the best on Capitol Hill. They are experts in their respective fields and I proudly allowed them to provide their expertise to the Trump transition team on immigration law. To be clear, while they gave advice to the new Administration, they did not have decision making authority on the policy. The final decision was made at the highest levels of the Trump Administration, and I support the President’s executive order. My staff had no control of the language contained in the President’s executive order, the timing of the announcement, the rollout and subsequent implementation, and the coordination with Congress. I am proud of my staff—they are an asset to me, Congress, and the American people.”

Also on Tuesday, the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit ethics watchdog, asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to immediately open an investigation into whether the staffers broke any federal laws or House rules by helping the administration draft the executive order.

“Employees of the United States House of Representatives are duty-bound to serve Members of Congress and the Americans who elected them. It appears that these House staffers surreptitiously worked on issues for the President-elect, and perhaps later the White House, without even telling the members for whom they worked. The OCE should open an investigation immediately and determine whether these staffers broke any federal laws or House rules,” said Daniel E. Stevens, the acting director of the Campaign for Accountability.

Stevens noted that House rules specifically state that lawyers are prohibited from consulting and advising clients beyond the House of Representatives to avoid conflicts of interest, and given that many staffers of the House Judiciary Committee are lawyers, the staffers that worked on this order may have run afoul of several laws and House rules.

“The House Judiciary Committee is supposed to exercise oversight of executive branch immigration policy,” Stevens said. “As inconvenient as it may be to the Trump administration, there are still three branches of government. Unfortunately, these staffers seemed intent on merging two of them. OCE should investigate and expose the details of this relationship, which undermines the independence of Congress.”

Story by Chris Graham


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