The Cable

White House: Sorry, But Ben Rhodes Won’t Be Testifying on Iran

The White House denied a request by a top Republican lawmaker on Monday for one of President Barack Obama’s closest foreign policy aides to testify on Capitol Hill, saying it poses “separation of powers” issues that raise “significant constitutional concerns.”

White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes speaks to reporters in the briefing room of the White House April 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. Rhodes was speaking about the suspected cyber attack on US government systems last year. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes speaks to reporters in the briefing room of the White House April 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. Rhodes was speaking about the suspected cyber attack on US government systems last year. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

The White House denied a request by a top Republican lawmaker on Monday for one of President Barack Obama’s closest foreign policy aides to testify on Capitol Hill, saying it poses “separation of powers” issues that raise “significant constitutional concerns.”

The row represents the latest twist in the controversy surrounding an unusual New York Times Magazine profile of Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes. In the piece, Rhodes boasted about his ability to sell the Iran nuclear deal to gullible reporters — a claim Republicans want to question Rhodes about in a public hearing.

But the Obama administration isn’t taking the bait. In a letter from White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston to House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, it effectively tells Republicans, thanks but no thanks.

“The appearance of a senior presidential adviser before Congress threatens the independence and the autonomy of the president, as well as his ability to receive candid advice and counsel in the discharge of his constitutional duties,” Eggleston wrote. “We will not make Mr. Rhodes available to testify.”

Republicans are already blasting the administration for the response, with Chaffetz leading the pack in a message on Twitter. “Disappointing but typical,” he said.

Republicans seized on the profile last week, viewing it as confirmation that the Obama administration misled the public on the merits of the Iran nuclear deal. Republicans uniformly opposed the agreement, which exchanged sanctions relief for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program.

In the article, Rhodes talks about the administration’s aggressive messaging strategy, which was designed to combat GOP criticisms. “In the absence of rational discourse, we are going to discourse the [expletive] out of this,” he said.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest argued it is not the Obama administration that manufactured lies about the nuclear deal, but Republican lawmakers. “The truth is it is Republicans in Congress who criticized the Iran deal who’ve got a lot to explain when it comes to saying things about the Iran deal that didn’t turn out to be true,” Earnest said at Monday’s daily press briefing.

“And if they want to hold a hearing to determine whether or not Republicans were just wrong and badly misinformed or if they were purposefully lying to the American people, then they can do that,” he added.

The author of the article, David Samuels, also didn’t escape the controversy unscathed, as several experts and journalists challenged his account of the debate surrounding the Iran nuclear deal and forced an admission that he did not reach out for comment to some of the key journalists he accused of retailing the deal for the administration.

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