After a New York Times Magazine article ab0ut Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes exposed how the administration intentionally misled lawmakers and the American public about the Iranian nuke deal, Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has been very eager to have Rhodes testify before his committee. The profile on Rhodes quotes him saying the White House built an “echo chamber” of experts who sold a false narrative to young, often inexperienced reporters. Leading Republicans have become so exercised over the deepening scandal, they’re calling on the president to fire Rhodes.
Last week, Chaffetz goaded the White House on Twitter, asking if Rhodes was “man enough” to testify at the Oversight hearing set for Tuesday titled, “White House narratives on the Iran Nuclear Deal.”
The White House spokesman ultimately hinted that it was unlikely Rhodes would go before Congress to share details about how he created an “echo chamber” in the press to pass the deal.
Instead, Earnest refocused the daily press briefing to criticize Republicans for their alleged role in creating a bogus narrative about the implications of the nuclear deal. He called out a number of GOP lawmakers, including Cotton, a first-term senator from Arkansas.
After Earnest suggested that Chaffetz invite Senator Tom Cotton, whom he likes to accuse of spreading false information about the deal, Chaffetz called his bluff and did just that. He invited Cotton to testify, on condition that Rhodes appear as well. He upped the ante by sending a letter to Rhodes on Friday:
“[Earnest] suggested that you should be invited to appear at the hearing as well, because you have some ‘interesting insight’ into the JCPOA [the Iran deal]. Therefore your appearance before the Committee would be contingent on Mr. Rhodes’ appearance at that hearing,” Chaffetz said.
When asked if Rhodes would be able to testify before the committee, Earnest did not rule it out during the White House press briefing Monday.
But, alas, it was not to be. Later on Monday, W. Neil Eggleston, the White House counsel, confirmed in a letter to Chaffetz that Rhodes would not be allowed to testify at the Tuesday hearing.
Eggleston cited an executive privilege-like claim, asserting that such Rhode’s appearance “threatens the independence and autonomy of the President, as well as his ability to receive candid advice and counsel.”
Chaffetz and the White House have been engaged in an escalating feud, all on the heels of a New York Times Magazine piece where Rhodes was quoted boasting about the administration’s success in crafting a public narrative for the Iran deal. The profile on Rhodes quotes him saying they built an “echo chamber” of experts who sold that narrative to young, often inexperienced reporters.
After White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest initially said he should invite GOP Sen. Tom Cotton, whom he accuses of spreading false information about the deal, Chaffetz did exactly that — inviting Cotton to testify, on condition that Rhodes appeared as well.
Oddly enough, when asked last week by Fox News’ James Rosen whether the White House was asserting an executive privilege claim by not allowing Rhodes to testify before Congress, Earnest said, “This has nothing to do with executive privilege.” Now suddenly, the situation appears to have something to do with executive privilege, after all.
Asked earlier Monday about the possibility of a Rhodes appearance, Earnest did not rule it out but expressed what he called “thinly veiled skepticism about the whole exercise” and reiterated his claim that it is Republicans who should answer “for saying a lot of things about the Iran deal that turned out not to be true.”
Sources tell Fox News that the committee was keen for Rhodes to appear voluntarily so they avoid the territory of a possible subpoena.
Now, perhaps smelling blood in the water, several Republican senators are calling on Obama to fire Rhodes over the growing scandal.
Lawmakers who wrote to Obama on Monday demanded Rhodes be fired or forced to resign as a result of his actions. Sens. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), chair of the Senate’s subcommittee on national security and international trade and finance, John Cornyn (R., Texas), Senate majority whip, and John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, have signed the letter.
“We call on you to dismiss Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes before he further tarnishes the Office of President,” the lawmakers write. “While members of the Executive and Legislative branches may sometimes deeply disagree on issues of vital importance to our nation’s security and prosperity, we should all agree, for the greater good of our Republic and the citizens whom we represent, to engage in our debates in a respectful, honest, and constructive manner.”
“Mr. Rhodes’s disrespectful, deceptive, and destructive conduct has fallen appallingly short of this standard, however,” they write. “Indeed, if he had conducted himself this way in a typical place of business outside Washington, where American taxpayers work, he surely would have been already fired or asked to resign.”
The lawmakers further accuse the administration of breaching the American people’s trust and of insulting Congress.
Congress is hoping to discover who in the White House was part of the propaganda effort to sell the deal and which reporters willingly helped push the effort.