Sunday, October 24, 2021

Some staffers on Congress’s committee investigating Trump say they are disillusioned by its former leader

To date, Rachel M. Mitchell has spent her career in government service — as a top prosecutor at the Justice Department and at the Treasury Department, the longest-serving Inspector General on the panel and the highest-ranking White House appointee yet to have left after the 2016 presidential election.

But behind the scenes, several senior staffers in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Ms. Mitchell’s panel, said, they sense a different persona — and one they find difficult to understand.

Last month, Ms. Mitchell, a lawyer in the George W. Bush administration and one of the Democratic Party’s most outspoken critics of President Trump, announced that she was resigning from Congress. She left a coveted committee leadership post and a coveted position on the panel’s ethics and government reform task force.

After hearing that she was leaving, her two former co-workers in the inspector general’s office, Michael Garcia and Monica Goodling, were charged with improperly processing Bush-era pardon applications; Mr. Garcia went to prison, and Ms. Goodling took the Fifth Amendment.

Later, when the same panel was briefly in Republican hands, the then-chairman, Jason Chaffetz, famously ripped into the White House for failing to help an aide with mental health issues, causing her to attempt suicide. Mr. Chaffetz called her remark “an unprecedented act of insensitivity,” and he apologized, but he resigned as well.

Ms. Mitchell’s departure, which her spokeswoman said was prompted by a desire to spend more time with her family, has rekindled memories of her outspokenness and put a spotlight on how committees without senior staff retain their independence and still deal with investigations into an administration that has had little respect for it.

That has come from a group of White House aides who have had little work to do with Ms. Mitchell and who say she failed to reach out to them in recent months, even though Congress has never been her expertise.

“She never tried to explain what was going on,” said one senior aide, who was in regular contact with her since her appointment but asked not to be named, in order to talk freely. “She would say, ‘I’ll call you later.’ She’d be unreachable, for the most part.”

On Tuesday, Ms. Mitchell issued a statement thanking the staff on the committee for their “work” and vowing to remain “available and accessible to staff members.”

“I look forward to working with you again soon,” she wrote, which aides and staff said was standard for her when she was on the job.

Another former member of her staff described her as a “strong leader” who would “always let you know you were appreciated, and would reach out — she didn’t miss a beat.” But as a committee member, though, her approach was mostly new, staffers said.

And like Ms. Goodling and Mr. Garcia, who resigned under pressure, staffers on the committee found themselves dealing with a White House that did not respect the committee.

“When Jason Chaffetz left, we got the impression that we would not get a call, and we never got a call,” said a senior staff member, who also requested anonymity in order to speak freely. “And that’s the biggest question: Why not?”

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