House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte refused to answer questions on Wednesday about whether his staff signed nondisclosure agreements from the Trump transition team when they worked on a contentious immigration order that was signed and delivered with practically no notice.
The Virginia Republican managed to escape in silence from a crew of reporters grilling him on the matter as he left an appearance at the National Press Club.
During a question-and-answer session at the club, Goodlatte answered a direct question on the topic by reiterating a statement he made the day before — praising his staff for the work they conducted, without being specific on just what they did.
“It’s commonplace for Republican and Democratic staff to lend their expertise to presidential transition teams,” the 13-term congressman said. “In fact, it’s so commonplace that the Ethics Committee proactively issues guidance every presidential election cycle blessing this activity.”
The most recent guidance from the House Ethics Committee on congressional staff assisting presidential transition teams includes no mention of the use of nondisclosure agreements during that type of work period.
Also at issue is how much did members know of the work conducted by the congressional staffers. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said this week he was unaware the executive order was going to be released until “it was being rolled out.”
“As you know, we weren’t involved in this,” he said Tuesday.
In its guidance, the Ethics Committee said staffers that are considered “formally detailed” to helping the transition “shall be responsible only to the president-elect or the vice president-elect for the performance of his duties.”
That might explain why Republican leadership said they were unaware of the order until it was issued. There’s a dispute over whether Goodlatte himself was aware of what his staff was doing — he also did not address questions about when he learned of the order.
It’s not clear how congressional staff were classified for the work done on the immigration order, either.
Elsewhere, House Democratic leaders of caucuses that represent minority members sent a letter to Trump demanding that he remove his chief strategist Steve Bannon from a seat on the principals committee of the National Security Council.
California Rep. Barbara Lee, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Trump’s decision to give Bannon a seat on the NSC “placed our national security in grave danger.”
New Mexico Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Bannon was “complicit in peddling white supremacist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic and misogynistic narratives.”
“Bannon completely lacks the experience necessary to give an objective and informed opinion on global threats,” Lujan Grisham said.