White House Continues To Stonewall While Congress Begins To Push Back
The White House is continuing to stonewall legitimate Congressional investigations, but Congress is starting to push back.
The war between Congress and the White House over ongoing Congressional investigations regarding a wide range of topics continues to escalate. On top of reports that the full House will move to hold the Attorney General in contempt over his failure to provide a full copy of the Mueller report, the House Oversight Committee is getting another contempt citation ready:
The chairman of the House Oversight Committee said Monday that the panel would vote to hold Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to comply with a bipartisan subpoena for documents on a Trump administration plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The panel’s chairman, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), announced the move in letters to Barr and Ross on Monday. He gave them until Thursday to comply and raised the possibility of delaying the vote if they cooperate.
“Unfortunately, your actions are part of a pattern,” Cummings wrote to Barr and Ross in the letters. “The Trump administration has been engaged in one of the most unprecedented coverups since Watergate, extending from the White House to multiple federal agencies and departments of the government and across numerous investigations.”
If Barr and Ross fail to comply, a vote on contempt could come next week in the committee, according to Democratic officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss private talks.
In a statement, the Commerce Department noted that Ross has previously testified before the committee and that the department has turned over nearly 14,000 pages of documents to the panel. It accused the committee of seeking to “desperately and improperly influence the Supreme Court.”
The escalation between the Oversight Committee and Trump’s two Cabinet members comes just weeks after the House Judiciary Committee also voted to hold Barr in contempt for refusing to turn over special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s full, unredacted report. The full House is expected to vote on that contempt citation next week.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) had been pressing Democratic leadership for that vote so Democrats could take Barr to civil court to try to force his compliance.
Democrats on the judiciary panel are hoping to do the same with Donald McGahn, the former White House counsel who refused to testify or turn over documents. McGahn was a central witness in the Mueller report.
Democratic leaders could put the citations together in a massive contempt vote next week.
In a 23-to-14 vote in April, the Oversight Committee authorized Cummings to issue subpoenas for a deposition of John Gore, principal deputy assistant attorney general, and to Barr and Ross for documents related to the 2020 Census decision.
But the Justice Department said it would not comply with the subpoena for Gore to testify about the question, and the Trump administration has vowed to stonewall all House subpoenas. In his Monday letter to Barr, Cummings cited the attorney general’s “unprecedented order” to Gore to defy the subpoena as part of the reason for the upcoming votes.
In addition to this, the White House is now ordering two former employees not to hand over certain documents in response to Congressional subpoenas
The White House on Tuesday instructed two former aides to defy congressional subpoenas that sought documents related to allegations that President Donald Trump obstructed justice.
But one of those aides, Hope Hicks, a longtime Trump confidant who served as White House communications director, has turned over some documents to the House Judiciary Committee, according to House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler. It wasn’t immediately clear if that will satisfy Democrats’ sweeping demands
The committee issued the subpoenas two weeks ago to Hicks and Annie Donaldson, who was former White House Counsel Don McGahn’s top aide, as part of the panel’s investigation into Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice and abuses of power.
The subpoenas also seek public testimony from Hicks on June 19 and Donaldson on June 24. The White House previously directed McGahn not to testify, asking the Justice Department to write a new legal opinion stating that former White House officials are immune from congressional testimony. McGahn is expected to be held in civil contempt of Congress by the full House next week.
Democrats have accused Trump of orchestrating a “cover-up,” citing his resistance to their investigations — in particular, his efforts to prevent former aides from turning over documents and testifying publicly.
Trump has maintained that Democrats are trying to mount a “do-over” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference and the president’s efforts to thwart the probe. The president has said the report “exonerated” him, despite evidence laid out in the special counsel’s report about Trump’s attempts to fire Mueller or otherwise end the investigation altogether.
Presumably, the White House will object to the request for documents related to the time Hicks and Donaldson spent at the White House based on Executive Privilege. The more significant thing about this move, as well as the extent to which Congress is beginning to push back, though, is that it is clearly part of the ongoing, across the board, effort on the part of the White House to stonewall every request for documents or witnesses that may come from Congressional committees trying to fulfill their oversight duties under the Constitution. All of this is rooted, of course, in the President’s vow to resist”all” subpoenas by House Democrats,
In addition to the refusal of Attorney General Barr to comply with requests related to both the Mueller Report and the citizenship question and the other matters discussed above, there are a number of other areas where this strategy can be seen. Citing Executive Privilege, for example, the White House is blocking the House from hearing from former White House Counsel Don McGahn regarding the Russia investigation. On another topic, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has denied both a written request and a subpoena from the Ways And Means Committee for copies of the President’s tax returns despite the fact that the committee has clear statutory authority to request such documents.
The stonewalling has led Congress to seek redress with the courts, and so far they have been successful in getting rulings against what clearly seems to be an improper effort by the Administration to block nearly every Congressional investigation regardless of the subject. In one such ruling, a Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. ruled against the Administration and the President with respect to a Congressional subpoena for documents from the accounting firm that has handled much of the President’s private business over the past several decades. In a similar ruling just a few days later, another District Court Judge ruled against the President’s objections to a request for documents related to the President’s finances from Deutsche Bank, which has been his primary lender since he first started emerging from the downturn that nearly bankrupted him in the early 1990s. Both of these rulings have been appealed to the respective appropriate Circuit Court of Appeals, but they suggest that, ultimately, much of the Administration’s stonewalling effort will face difficult times ahead in the courts.
One impact of this stonewalling strategy, perhaps inevitably, has been that it has increased the pressure on Democratic leaders such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi to endorse the idea of proceeding with impeachment proceedings against the President. So far, the Democratic Leadership in the House has resisted those calls on the ground that impeachment would be a futile act given that it’s obvious that there will be no chance of removal or even a fair hearing in the Senate. How long that resistance will continue is hard to tell but, as I’ve said before, it’s worth remembering that, in the end, this same kind of stonewalling ended up playing a role in the Watergate scandal and the proposed impeaching that ultimately led President Nixon to resign in August 1974. As I’ve noted before, Article III of the Articles of Impeachment approved by the House Judiciary Committee just prior to that resignation which stated that the President had “failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas.” Arguably, that is exactly what the President and his Administration is doing here.