'Nonsense': Powerful Republican denounces White House information shut-out

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An already contentious move by Republican President Donald Trump to block opposition Democratic lawmakers from getting information about his administration received its most scathing criticism yet on Friday - from one of the most powerful Republican members of the U.S. Senate.

Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, in a more than 2,100-word letter to the White House, asked Trump to rescind unprecedented guidance that told executive agencies they do not have to honor requests for information from lawmakers in the minority party, currently the Democrats.

This week in hearings all over Capitol Hill members of both parties have criticized the information block. Democrats have posited that the Trump administration is trying to hide mistakes, problems or wrongdoing from them.

Sen. Chuck Grassley
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Sen. Chuck Grassley

Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speaks during a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., April 3, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley talks to a supporter at Big Barn Harley Davidson before the Joni Ernst?s 3rd Annual Roast and Ride in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., June 3, 2017.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speaks to reporters about recent revelations of President Donald Trump sharing classified information with Russian Officials on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. May 16, 2017.

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein talk during a hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation" featuring testimony from FBI Director James Comey on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 3, 2017.

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Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch as Senator Orrin Hatch (L) listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2017.

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U.S. Supreme Court judge nominee Neil Gorsuch is greeted by ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) while Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) looks on as Gorsuch arrives at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2017.

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Senate Judiciary chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., shake hands with former clerks of Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch before their news conference in support of confirming Gorsuch as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, March 29, 2017.

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Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Pat Roberts (R-KS) attend President Donald Trump address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on February 28, 2017 in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Trump's first address to Congress focused on national security, tax and regulatory reform, the economy, and healthcare.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, listens as former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testify during the Senate Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing on Russian Interference in the 2016 United States Election on Monday, May 8, 2017.

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Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speaks to constituents at a town hall meeting in Iowa Falls, Iowa on February 21, 2017.

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UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 1: President Donald Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court Judge Neil Gorsuch, looks on as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks to reporters following their meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 24: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) participate in a mark up session in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee delayed the vote on Sen. Jeff Session's nomination to be U.S. attorney general by a week at the request of Feinstein. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 03: Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is administered an oath by Vice President Joe Biden, as his wife Barbara looks on, during swearing-in ceremony in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, January 03, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 29: Senate Judiciary chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, left, meets with fellow committee member and Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., in his Capitol Hill office on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
FBI director nominee James Comey (2nd R) appears with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (L), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) (2nd L) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (R) before testifying at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington July 9, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
Senator Chuck Grassley talks to supporter Allan Frandson before the Republican Party of Iowa's Regan Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa September 17, 2010. REUTERS/Brian C. Frank (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) delivers remarks at a bi-partisan news conference on criminal justice reform, The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
From left: US Vice President Joe R. Biden, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), US President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wait for a meeting about the Supreme Court vacancy in the Oval Office of the White House March 1, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) speaks before Republican nominee Donald Trump arrives at "Joni's Roast and Ride" in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo AllegriU.
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) welcomes Representative Tom Price (R-GA), President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to be secretary of health and human services, in Grassley's office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. December 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Senator Charles 'Chuck' Grassley, a Republican from Iowa and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, smiles as he arrives to a confirmation hearing for Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 7, 2017. The confirmation hearing for Rosenstein began with Republicans and Democrats squaring off over who should lead probes into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential contacts between Moscow and Trumps campaign team. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 07: U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) participates in a news conference at the Capitol after a vote April 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. The Senate has confirmed President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch with a vote of 54-45. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
John Kasich, governor of Ohio and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, left, speak with Senator Charles 'Chuck' Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, while being introduced during a town hall meeting at the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016. In the chaos that is the New Hampshire Republican primary, one candidate is steering clear of the bumper-car madness and quietly creeping ahead of his rivals. Last week Kasich placed second in New Hampshire in five out of six recent polls, behind longstanding front-runner Donald Trump. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 27: From left, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, applaud President Barack Obama as he speaks about earmark reform during his first State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images)

Grassley, who has served in the Senate since 1981, called the guidance "nonsense" and described it as "a bureaucratic effort by the Office of Legal Counsel to insulate the executive branch from scrutiny by the elected representatives of the American people."

The Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over the Justice Department and its Office of Legal Counsel, which published the guidance last month.

Grassley said it goes against the U.S. Constitution by misrepresenting how Congress functions and trying to tell the legislative branch how to do its job. It also impedes Democratic lawmakers' ability to check up on the president, a responsibility also laid out in the constitution, Grassley wrote in a letter replete with footnotes and case citations.

"I know from experience that a partisan response to oversight only discourages bipartisanship, decreases transparency, and diminishes the crucial role of the American people's elected representatives," he wrote. "Oversight brings transparency, and transparency brings accountability."

The Justice Department declined to comment on Grassley's letter or the guidance. The White House did not return a request for comment.

The Office of Legal Counsel has not explained the impetus for publishing the opinion.

The guidance did not single out Democrats by name. Instead, it addressed information requests to executive agencies from the highest-ranking lawmaker from the minority party sitting on congressional committees, called ranking members.

The Republicans hold the majority in both the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives and therefore chair all the committees, with Democrats as ranking members.

The opinion said that agencies only have to respond to information requests from committee chairs. Ranking member requests "do not trigger any obligation to accommodate congressional needs and are not legally enforceable through a subpoena or contempt proceedings," it said.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; editing by Grant McCool)

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