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Democrats face an unprecedented silent treatment from Trump World

When it comes to congressional oversight, Donald Trump has adopted an approach to transparency one wouldn't expect to see in a modern democracy.
US President Donald Trump looks on before signing finical services executive orders and memorandums at the US Treasury Department in Washington, DC, April 21, 2017.

Two months ago, congressional Democrats first went public with concerns that the Trump administration had ordered executive-branch officials to withhold information from Democratic offices. The Washington Post reported in April that leading lawmakers said "their staff members were told directly by workers in agencies that they could no longer speak with them."

A month later, Senate Democrats raised the same concerns, accusing Donald Trump's White House of "purposely ignoring requests for information" sent by Democratic offices.

Politico reports today that Dems aren't paranoid; the administration's partisan silent treatment is real.

The White House is telling federal agencies to blow off Democratic lawmakers' oversight requests, as Republicans fear the information could be weaponized against President Donald Trump.At meetings with top officials for various government departments this spring, Uttam Dhillon, a White House lawyer, told agencies not to cooperate with such requests from Democrats, according to Republican sources inside and outside the administration.... The declaration amounts to a new level of partisanship in Washington, where the president and his administration already feels besieged by media reports and attacks from Democrats. The idea, Republicans said, is to choke off the Democratic congressional minorities from gaining new information that could be used to attack the president.

The White House didn't exactly deny this. On the contrary, a spokesperson said the administration's policy is to "accommodate" oversight requests from committee chairs, "regardless of their political party."

This, of course, is hilarious, since in a Republican-led House and Senate, every committee chair is a Republican. The quote is effectively an admission that Democratic requests for oversight information are not "accommodated" by this administration.

Indeed, Politico's report is amazing in its explicit acknowledgement of circumstances that should not exist: the White House apparently realizes providing official information to Congress "could be used to attack the president," so Team Trump has decided to embrace secrecy and abandon transparency.

For those unfamiliar with institutional norms, there's no modern precedent for anything like this. Plenty of White Houses have clashed with Congress, and been slow to respond to requests for information, but the idea of an administration issuing an edict to ignore oversight requests from federal lawmakers from one party is ridiculous. The Politico piece added that the Trump administration's plans to stonewall Democrats are "in many ways unprecedented."

Here's a good, real-world example:

One month ago, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats sent a letter to the Office of Personnel Management asking for cybersecurity information after it was revealed that millions of people had their identities compromised. The letter asked questions about how cybersecurity officials were hired, and in Rice's view, it "was not a political letter at all.""The answer we got back is, 'We only speak to the chair people of committees.' We said, 'That's absurd, what are you talking about?'" Rice said in an interview. "I was dumbfounded at their response. I had never gotten anything like that.... The administration has installed loyalists at every agency to keep tabs on what information people can get."

Circling back to a report from April, during Obama’s presidency, Trump whined incessantly about transparency, calling the Democrat, among other things, “the least transparent president ever.” Trump asked in 2012, “Why does Obama believe he shouldn’t comply with record releases that his predecessors did of their own volition? Hiding something?”

With the benefit of hindsight, all of this looks much worse now. From visitors' logs to golf outings, tax returns to congressional oversight, Donald Trump has adopted an approach to transparency one wouldn't expect to see in a modern democracy.