House Judiciary Committee To Subpoena A Dozen People Close To Trump

The House Judiciary Committee has upped the ante in the showdown between the Trump Administration and Congress.

The House Judiciary Committee significantly upped the ante in its ongoing battle with the White House over investigations by the House of Representatives by issuing subpoenas to a wide variety of people close to the President and the Russia investigation, raising the prospect over yet another legal showdown between the Executive and Legislative Branches over investigations and Executive Privilege:

WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a dozen new subpoenas targeting a who’s who of witnesses cited in Robert S. Mueller III’s report as Democrats sought to elevate their showdown with President Trump over episodes of possible obstruction of justice documented by the special counsel.

The panel also approved a separate group of subpoenas seeking information about the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their families at the border.

And House Democratic leaders set Tuesday for a full House vote to hold Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress over their refusal to relinquish under subpoena documents related to the administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

“The House will not shirk from its oversight of this administration and its malign effort to silence the voices of millions in our democracy,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, referring to fears that a citizenship question would dissuade immigrants from answering the census.

Among the prominent figures to be subpoenaed by the Democrats are Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general; Rod J. Rosenstein, his deputy who appointed Mr. Mueller, the special counsel; John F. Kelly, the former White House chief of staff; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser; and Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager. Democrats also authorized a subpoena for David J. Pecker, who as head of American Media helped Mr. Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign buy the silence of a pornographic film actress and a former Playboy model, both of whom claimed to have had sexual relationships with him.

The committee’s actions set up a slew of possible new conflicts with the White House, which has taken a dim view of House Democrats’ continued investigation of matters studied by Mr. Mueller. White House officials could try to intervene to block testimony from many of those subpoenaed on Thursday who are current or former high-level administration officials, as they have with other witnesses.

That would only deepen the standoff between the administration and the House. On the census issue, Mr. Barr and Mr. Ross could still reach an accommodation with the House Oversight and Reform Committee, but more likely, Tuesday’s vote would allow the committee to go to court to try to pry the documents loose and make criminal referrals for Mr. Barr and Mr. Ross to the Justice Department for defying congressional subpoenas.

Jerrold Nadler, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee is declining to say when he will actually issue the subpoenas or when he will attempt to schedule the testimony of all these witnesses to take place. It’s expected, though, that he will wait until after the testimony of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which is scheduled to take place next Wednesday before both the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. That testimony will apparently be limited to roughly two hours per Committee beginning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

As for when the testimony might be scheduled that’s anybody’s guess. Ordinarily, Congress adjourns at the end of July for a month-long August break, but that practice has not always been followed in recent years. Additionally, it’s not unusual for committees to continue their work during the recess. As for the issue of when the testimony of the other might take place, that will largely depend on how the White House responds to all of this since several of the people on the list are Presidential advisers over whom the President is likely to assert Executive Privilege with respect to both their testimony and any documents that might be requested from them.

Unfortunately for the White House, not all of the witnesses that the Committee is issuing subpoenas for can be blocked via Executive Privilege. This includes people such as David Pecker, the publisher executive who has been linked to the payments that were made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to buy their silence about their affairs with Trump while his wife was pregnant with Barron Trump. Those payments, of course, have been pointed to as potential violations of campaign finance laws. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who is currently serving a sentence in Federal prison, has alleged that he and Trump were involved with Pecker in coordinating these payments in October 2016 in order prevent them from leaking out during the final weeks of the campaign.

Trump would also be unable to assert Executive Privilege to block the testimony of persons such as former Campaign Chairman Corey Lewandowski, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and California attorney Keith Davidson, who represented Stormy Daniels during the negotiation of the agreement under which she was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about her affair with Trump.

In addition to these witnesses, the resolution also authorizes Nadler to issue subpoenas to the White House for documents and testimony related to a variety of issues that have not been under investigation by the committee until now. This includes:

  • The “Zero Tolerance” policy and other family separation policies and practices;
  • Detention or short-term custody of children and/or families; and
  • Discussions about or offers of presidential pardons to Department of Homeland Security officials or employees

This represents yet another expansion of the authority of the committee.

If the recent past is any indication, then the White House is likely to respond to this with the same stonewalling strategy that we have seen in the past. For most of these potential witnesses, this means asserting Executive Privilege, which is a matter that will have to be litigated in the courts. For some of these witnesses, though, Executive Privilege will not be an option because they have never worked in the White House or elsewhere in the Trump Administration. This includes persons such as David Pecker and Corey Lewandowski, both of whom dealt with Trump during the course of the campaign. In any case, we’ll have to see where this goes but it clearly means that the investigations are just getting started.

Here’s the Committee’s Resolution:

House Judiciary Committee W… by on Scribd

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Politicians, Russia Investigation, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Mr. Prosser says:

    Is this the start of Pelosi’s strategy to start gathering the testimony that will lead to an impeachment the voters will support?

  2. mike shupp says:

    @Mr. Prosser:

    No. My impression is, Pelosi thinks if you don’t rock the boat, the voters will swing to the left on their own.

  3. Ken_L says:

    @Mr. Prosser: It’s not much of a strategy if she doesn’t get any testimony. Perhaps she’s confident Trump can exhaust his legal challenges by this time next year, and impeachment proceedings can coincide with the business end of the election campaign. But if so, it’s a high risk strategy that will fall flat if Trump wins the court cases.

  4. Ken_L says:

    I expect Trump will come up with some kind of legal argument why the Lewandowskis don’t have to answer the subpoena, as he has in the Mazars case. As he observed about the national emergency declaration to get wall funding, he’ll expect to lose in court until it gets to the Supreme Court, which will rule in his favor. And who’s to say he’s wrong? Presumably Kav and Gorsuch were invited to air their views about a few ‘hypotheticals’ during the vetting process.

  5. Mr. Prosser says:

    @mike shupp: That strategy has never worked.

  6. mike shupp says:

    @Mr. Prosser:

    Well yeah, but don’t tell me. Tell Nancy.