Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. for the Markup of a Resolution Establishing the House Committee on the Judiciary Executive Overreach Task Force

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
   “Debates about the proper scope of executive power and its relationship to legislative authority are as old as the Nation itself.

       “As the Committee charged with examining issues arising under our Constitution, it is important that we regularly discuss such fundamental matters about our Nation’s basic governing framework.

       “Today’s resolution, which would establish an ‘Executive Overreach Task Force’ for the next 6 months, is ostensibly the latest effort to fulfill this important obligation.

       “As we move forward with the creation of this Task Force, however, we must keep several matters in mind.

       “To begin with, it is my fervent hope that this Task Force not devolve into a partisan political witch hunt."

       “Sadly, I have seen too many examples of task forces, select committees, and other bodies that have been set up merely to become venues for roving political attacks."

       “During the Obama Administration, we have seen the use of a select committee to question the Administration’s conduct concerning the attacks on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  After nearly 2 years and $5.8 million taxpayer dollars spent, that committee has yet to find evidence contradicting the key findings of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board or prior congressional investigations finding no wrongdoing."

       “There also appears to be a vigorous effort to undermine women’s health and equality through the establishment of a select committee that seeks to de-legitimize the work of Planned Parenthood."

       “These efforts seem to many to be nothing more than political fishing expeditions designed not to get to the truth but to energize the Republican Party’s base voters in preparation for this year’s elections."

       “Given the importance of the question of whether Executive authority has become too concentrated and too open to abuse, I hope that this will not be the case with the so-called ‘Executive Overreach Task Force.’"

       “Assuming for now that the Task Force represents a good faith effort to study executive power substantively, I would like to highlight several issues that I would recommend the Task Force consider.  These include:

●   Expansive and frequent assertions of the state secrets privilege, including efforts to potentially shield evidence of government wrongdoing;
●   The need to enact press shield legislation that would provide a qualified privilege that prevents a reporter’s source material from being revealed, with limited exceptions;
●   The need for enhanced and strengthened legal protections for whistleblowers, including for federal employees who report high-level governmental misconduct to Congress;
●   The need for legislation to strengthen Congress’s contempt power, including a clear and expeditious mechanism to enforce congressional subpoenas civilly against current and former Executive Branch officials;
●   The need for legislation to expand the Department of Justice Inspector General’s jurisdiction to allow investigation of misconduct by senior Department officials and United States Attorneys; and
●   The overuse of presidential signing statements to challenge legal provisions, not merely to explain the President’s legal interpretations."

       “These are among several areas that are ripe for finding common ground."

       “Indeed, our Committee has a long and distinguished history of task forces operating in a productive and non-partisan manner."

       “Task forces such as the Task Force on Over-criminalization and the Task Force on Antitrust and Competition Policy offer promising precedents for working cooperatively to consider important issues.  It is my hope that this latest effort will continue that tradition.”

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