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.


FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Law and the Courts, Politicians, 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

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I am trying to read between the lines of the trump admins actions and see the politics of it. It seems quite apparent to me that trump and co are playing an obvious delaying game here and that the GOP at large fears articles of impeachment not at all. But the tactic of obstruct everything only insures that all of this will become a campaign issue in 2020. I just don’t see how that benefits the GOP, and yet they obviously think it will.

  2. Kathy says:

    The Republican party is being awfully stupid and shortsighted. By now you’d think some of the people Dennison is keeping from either testifying or turning over documents, would say “F**k you, this is legitimate Congressional oversight.”

    the reason no one does, is they’d forfeit any future in the GOP forever.

    And the reason this is stupid and shortsighted, is that the next Democratic administration will do exactly the same thing. And if anyone thinks that any government should be free of oversight, I’d invite them to think again.

  3. KM says:

    @Kathy:
    They’re gambling IOKIYAR has a longer shelf life then Twinkies and more pervasive then roaches. Oversight is for *Democrats* – it’s a cudgel for when the GOP claws their way into power and a blame tactic for when they get kicked out (“why didn’t you stop it if you knew something was wrong?”). Simply put, it’s not short-sighted if you expect different rules for when you’re in charge vs the people you hate.

    They’re not stupid – they know their base. Said base believes everything is liberals’ fault and they deserve to be under a microscope till kingdom come. Meanwhile conservatives are being tormented by the media and unfairly held to standards like a common Democrat. The next Dem Administration will absolutely not get a pass and we’ll suddenly get a revival of “accountability” and “the feds are coming to get you”

  4. Kathy says:

    @KM:

    “We just created the greatest democracy on Earth, you low-life commoner!”

    That’s a fictional quote by Jefferson, I think, on The Simpsons (all the way back in their first decade*). It fits the times.

    What the GOP is counting on is the Democrats obeying the rules. I don’t think they will. Not so much because Dennison didn’t, but because the Republicans chose to go along with him.

    (*) The episode is “Homer the Great.”

  5. Scott says:

    I think the legal maneuvering is required but ultimately fruitless. The true power of Congress is over the budget. Appropriations bills are just being started. Time to force compliance by tieing it to money. No compliance, no money.

  6. Just nutha says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: It seems to me (but we all know what I am) that the “plan” (???) is based on a belief that 1) Trump supporters will stay with him no matter what and 2) that non-aligned (pseudo independents) will become tired of the drama quickly and might start to wonder “why the Dems are beating up” on a guy who’s not doing anywhere near as bad a job as everybody said he would. (‘After all, I haven’t lost my job or my house.’) And that the fatigue will present as additional Trump support.

    They may be right.

  7. Steve says:

    Just remember that Trump always plays to his base. Everyone else follows along. They will interpret these refusals as standing tough against liberals. He won’t lose a single GOP vote over this.

    Steve

  8. al Ameda says:

    Trump clearly does not think that Democrats have a spine, He thinks he can play them the way he plays White House staffers – degrade and humiliate them.

    Democrats should take him up on impeachment. Hold hearings on the Mueller Report, and use the enumerated instances of obstruction of justice outlined in the Report as the basis for articles of impeachment, and get on with the vote. There is no downside because not one mind will be changed here, and Trump’s base does not do anything but outrage anyway.

    The Senate? Who cares.

    Trump as martyr? Please, conservatives already present themselves constantly as aggrieved victims of just about everything … Barack Obama, the deep state, Hillary, AOC, Venezuelan-socialist Democrats, etc.

  9. Warren Peese says:

    The stonewalling is but one more reason to start an impeachment inquiry. Time’s a wastin’.

  10. Ken_L says:

    It’s possible, perhaps probable, that Trump is driving the whole exercise confident “his” Supreme Court will ultimately rule in his favor. That was his prediction in the case of the border national emergency declaration.

  11. Jax says:

    @Kathy: I suspect the writers of the Simpson’s, Family Guy, and American Dad will become more prescient than they ever suspected, in the long run. Little did we know at the time.