Subpoena Energy Officials

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on strengthening energy with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Any wonder US fossil fuel production is down, big money for China’s solar industry up – in Biden’s pro-China Energy Department? Any wonder Biden officials asked to testify balk? Subpoena them. Get at the truth. It is time.

Many years ago, as counsel to the US House Oversight Committee, we had subpoena power. We used it sparingly, tended to get cooperation from Clinton’s White House. Those days are gone. The House Republicans promised intense oversight, and should get on Energy’s pro-China bias.

Last week, after months of Republicans insisting Biden’s Energy Department halt a major contract with a Chinese company tied to China’s government – they did so. The real question is what is happening behind the Energy’s dark curtain? Why did it take so long?

More concretely, why did another contract get let to a firm locked up with Communist China? How can Congress legislatively corral officials who seem to feel unaccountable to the People?

The answer to this three-fold, and involves fresh legislative – not just oversight – action.

First, if a US company – with no China ties – can get a job done, especially if it relates to a security-sensitive sector such as energy, the first choice should always be the US company. Why is there no legislation that insists that security-sensitive contracts MUST be let to non-China US firms first?

Second, where are the legal consequences when someone in the Biden – or any other future – administration, places US security, including energy security, at risk? While we have “Buy America” and dual-use restriction laws (i.e. limiting sale of military technology), where are the laws tied to energy dependence on China?

Third, and this relates to the first two but is different, why did a Republican House that asked the officials involved in that China contract to testify, decide to let it all slide when the official declined to testify? If the House does not insist, who is going to?

This is where the rubber meets the road, and someone needs to say so. When any Administration witness who is asked to explain aberrant behavior, or behavior needing legislative correction, choose not to testify – the answer should be shift and certain, a subpoena.

Yes, in cases where a simple and uncontroversial set of documents, or White House document or witness is involved, natural separation of powers issues arrive. But this is not the case when a legislative purpose – and the will and security of the American People is being frustrated.

Even the US Supreme Court has made clear that the Congress can issue a subpoena for a document or witness that will inform future legislative action, and especially if security concerns are implicated. 

True, this Administrations seems adverse to complying even with non-White House subpoenas relating to legislation or constitutional oversight – as evidenced by Justice’s decision last week NOT to honor a congressional request to produce a document implicating the President in a pay-to-pay scheme.

But while that is another important issue, and needs addressing – may even end up at the Supreme Court – the simple truth is that Congress has an obligation to get to truth and to protect the country. Every member swore an oath to that effect, as did senor administration officials.

When a department – in this case Energy – declines a basic, on-the-record, inter-branch conversation, here about whether, why, and how they ended up contracting with China on a matter of security, the idea that Congress should just shrug and walk on is a no-go.

Certainly, there are many priorities – economic, security, and assessing what China is up to – being handled by the go-go Republican House, but when a department goes silent on a request to produce a specific witness, declines and snubs the House, that should be reason for a subpoena.

Whether that will now happen remains to be seen, but just conducting an “empty seat” hearing is like saying, “okay, thumb your nose, and we will talk about it next time.” No, talk about it now.  In short, if Biden’s pro-China Energy Department officials say, “take a hike,” Congress should say, “wait just a minute, the US Constitution gives us a right – and Supreme Court in 2020 affirmed that right – to get to the bottom on this, and we will subpoena you, insist you testify.”

As a former Oversight counsel, my experience tells me that there are many oversight topics and targets. There always are. But when an imperious, uncooperative, seemingly truculent and unaccountable department or official pushes back against oversight, that should be a cue. The Supreme Court has made clear, Congress has the power to insist they testify.

In short, Congress should issue a subpoena, do not let Energy officials walk. Instead, get to the bottom of this pro-China Energy bias.  Make clear Congress does not take anti-constitutional behavior lightly.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman2 for AMAC.

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