Trump to McGahn: Ignore Subpoena 05/21 06:18
House Democrats are facing yet another brazen attempt by President Donald
Trump to stonewall their investigations , this time with former White House
counsel Donald McGahn defying a subpoena for his testimony on orders from the
WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Democrats are facing yet another brazen attempt by
President Donald Trump to stonewall their investigations , this time with
former White House counsel Donald McGahn defying a subpoena for his testimony
on orders from the White House.
A lawyer for McGahn said he would follow the president's directive and skip
Tuesday's House Judiciary hearing, leaving the Democrats without yet another
witness --- and a growing debate within the party about how to respond.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, backed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman
Jerrold Nadler, is taking a step-by-step approach to the confrontations with
Trump. Nadler said the committee would vote to hold McGahn in contempt, and
take the issue to court.
"You face serious consequences if you do not appear," Nadler warned McGahn
in a letter on the eve of the hearing. Democrats are encouraged by an early
success on that route as a federal judge ruled against Trump on Monday in a
financial records dispute with Congress.
But that hasn't been swift enough for some members of the Judiciary panel
who feel that Pelosi should be more aggressive and launch impeachment hearings
that would make it easier to get information from the administration. Such
hearings would give Democrats more standing in court and could stop short of a
vote to remove the president.
The issue was raised in a meeting among top Democrats Monday evening, where
some members confronted Pelosi about opening up the impeachment hearings,
according to three people familiar with the private conversation who requested
anonymity to discuss it.
Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin made the case launching an impeachment inquiry
would consolidate the Trump investigations as Democrats try to keep focus on
their other work, according to the people.
Pelosi pushed back, noting that several committees are doing investigations
already and they had already been successful in one court case. But the
members, several of whom have spoken publicly about the need to be more
aggressive with Trump, are increasingly impatient with the careful approach.
Other Democrats in the meeting siding with Raskin included Rhode Island Rep.
David Cicilline, California Rep. Ted Lieu and freshman Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse.
Just before the start of the meeting, Cicilline tweeted: "If Don McGahn does
not testify tomorrow, it will be time to begin an impeachment inquiry of
In the hours after the discussion, Pelosi and Nadler met privately. Shortly
after emerging from that meeting, Nadler said "it's possible" when asked about
impeachment hearings. But he noted that Democrats had won a court victory
without having to take that step.
"The president's continuing lawless conduct is making it harder and harder
to rule out impeachment or any other enforcement action," Nadler said.
McGahn's refusal to testify is the latest of several moves to block
Democratic investigations by Trump, who has said his administration will fight
"all of the subpoenas." The Judiciary committee voted to hold Attorney General
William Barr in contempt earlier this month after he declined to provide an
unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report. And the House
intelligence committee is expected to take a vote on a separate "enforcement
action" against the Justice Department this week after Barr declined a similar
request from that panel.
McGahn's lawyer, William Burck, said in a letter to Nadler that McGahn is
"conscious of the duties he, as an attorney, owes to his former client" and
would decline to appear.
Still, Burck encouraged the committee to negotiate a compromise with the
White House, saying that his client "again finds himself facing contradictory
instructions from two co-equal branches of government."
McGahn was a key figure in Mueller's investigation, describing ways in which
the president sought to curtail that federal probe. Democrats have hoped to
question him as a way to focus attention on Mueller's findings and further
investigate whether Trump did obstruct justice.
If McGahn were to defy Trump and testify before Congress, it could endanger
his own career in Republican politics and put his law firm, Jones Day, in the
president's crosshairs. Trump has mused about instructing Republicans to cease
dealing with the firm, which is deeply intertwined in Washington with the GOP,
according to one White House official and a Republican close to the White House
not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
"This move is just the latest act of obstruction from the White House that
includes its blanket refusal to cooperate with this committee," Nadler said in
a statement. "It is also the latest example of this administration's disdain
Administration officials mulled various legal options before settling on
providing McGahn with a legal opinion from the Department of Justice to justify
defying the subpoena.
"The immunity of the President's immediate advisers from compelled
congressional testimony on matters related to their official responsibilities
has long been recognized and arises from the fundamental workings of the
separation of powers," the department's opinion reads. "Accordingly, Mr. McGahn
is not legally required to appear and testify about matters related to his
official duties as Counsel to the President."
A federal judge rejected a similar argument in 2008 in a dispute over a
subpoena for Harriet Miers, who was White House counsel to George W. Bush. U.S.
District Judge John Bates said it was an unprecedented notion that a White
House official would be absolutely immune from being compelled to testify
before Congress. Miers had to show up for her testimony, but still had the
right to assert executive privilege in response to any specific questions posed
by legislators, the judge said.
But in 2014, under the Obama administration, the Justice Department issued
an opinion arguing that if Congress could force the president's closest
advisers to testify about matters that happened during their tenure, it would
"threaten executive branch confidentiality, which is necessary (among other
things) to ensure that the President can obtain the type of sound and candid
advice that is essential to the effective discharge of his constitutional