A letter from Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), originally sent in April to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, informed Mnuchin of the Financial Services Committee’s intention to retain control of all communication between the committee and the Treasury. The letter was released by Buzzfeed on Thursday. Additional letters by Hensarling to other government agencies were released by the Associated Press.
Hensarling stated that communications between government agencies committee staff and members often include sensitive and confidential information that should not be released.
“All such documents and communications constitute congressional records not ‘agency records’ for purposes of the Freedom of Information Act, and remain subject to congressional control even when in the physical possession of the” agency, Hensarling wrote in the letter to Mnuchin.
Under the 1967 Freedom of Information Act, Congress is exempt from requests for records and material, and as Hensarling stated, communications between the Financial Services Committee and various branches of government constitute congressional records.
Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-California), criticized Hensarling’s letters.
"Anytime he's called on it, he says that Congress has the right to conduct oversight. And while Congress does have that right, it is the height of hypocrisy for him to take such extraordinary measures to shield himself from the oversight of the American public," Waters said in a statement. "People should ask themselves: What is he trying to hide?"
Jeff Emerson, a committee spokesman, called the letter a reminder of legal obligations. He said a federal appellate court recognized in 2004 that records created by the Treasury Department at the request of Congress are not considered agency records if Congress intended to retain them, and that the court has long recognized that Congress’ constitutional oversight role may be threatened if agencies don’t maintain the confidentiality of congressional records.
“This newfound liberal outrage is just performance art,” Emerson said in a statement. In response to waters, Emerson noted that she had known of the letters for over a month.