Democrats’ New Strategy to Get Trump Officials to Testify: Threaten to Withhold Their Salaries

Published on May 7, 2019 by Athena Pallas

As the Trump administration continues to refuse requests for staff to testify before House committees, Democrats have turned to an additional strategy to get them to comply – withholding the salaries of officials responsible for blocking their investigations. The House apparently has the authority to do so under section 713 of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act. The move could conceivably target not just the officials asked to testify, but their superiors, if the superiors were instructing the official not to testify. Under that concept, unless this is yet another area of “executive privilege”, even President Trump could conceivably have his salary withheld, as he is most certainly advising officials not to testify before House committees; while Trump doesn’t need that salary, the symbolism of withholding his salary for failing on the job would likely be a delight to many.

That indication of authority and threat to withhold the salaries of those who would try to block Democrats’ investigations was directed at Interior, Commerce and Justice Department staff today in letters from House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD). In those letters Cummings wrote, according to The Hill, “Please be advised that any official at the Department who ‘prohibits or prevents’ or ‘attempts or threatens to prohibit or prevent’ any officer or employee of the Federal Government from speaking with the Committee could have his or her salary withheld pursuant to section 713 of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act.” According to The Hill:

House Democrats are threatening the salaries of Interior, Commerce and Justice Department staff if they block ongoing committee investigations. House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent letters Tuesday calling for eight current and former Trump administration officials to provide information for two of the panel’s investigations, cautioning that officials who block the interviews from taking place could see their salaries withheld. …The move is the latest in an escalating power struggle between the Trump administration and House Democrats over investigations. Tensions between the White House and congressional Democrats have amplified in recent weeks, with President Trump telling reporters last month that he plans to fight “all the subpoenas.” The White House has directed multiple officials to ignore requests by House Democrats to turn over documents to the committee. The committee noted seven of the eight interview requests recently made related to the panel’s probes were either denied or remain unanswered.

Of course, this new strategy from Democrats wouldn’t work against former Trump administration officials, who no longer are receiving a salary that could be withheld, nor would it likely work against the many wealthy officials in Trump’s government who are not dependent on their salary, but it is just one strategy of several, and one potentially able to show a quicker result than protracted court battles.

Featured image by Palácio do Planalto from Brasilia, Brasil – 19/03/2019 Encontro com o Senhor Donald Trump, Presidente dos Estados Unidos da América via Wikimedia Commons.