White House defies Congress on McGahn subpoena as Trump battles Democrats

Former White House counsel Don McGahn was reportedly involved in President Donald Trump's attempt to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Former White House counsel Don McGahn was reportedly involved in President Donald Trump's attempt to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump's struggle with Democratic lawmakers intensified on Tuesday (May 7), with the White House directing former counsel Don McGahn not to comply with a congressional subpoena and the chair of the House Judiciary Committee threatening to hold him in contempt.

Mr McGahn, who left his post as White House counsel last year, was directed not to produce White House records related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia inquiry that are being sought by the House panel, said Mr Pat Cipollone, the current White House counsel.

Separately, the Justice Department on Tuesday also threatened to advise Mr Trump to invoke executive privilege over the entire unredacted Mueller report if House Democrats did not back down from a plan to hold Attorney-General William Barr in contempt.

Both incidents are the latest episodes in an escalating fight between the Republican President and Democrats, who control the House of Representatives and are seeking documents and testimony relating to various investigations, ahead of the 2020 presidential election in which Mr Trump is seeking a second four-year term.

Mr Cipollone said in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler that Mr McGahn was given the documents during the investigation "with the clear understanding that the records remain subject to the control of the White House for all purposes".

"The White House records remain legally protected from disclosure under longstanding constitutional principles, because they implicate significant executive branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege," Mr Cipollone wrote.

Executive privilege is a right claimed by presidents to withhold information about internal executive branch deliberations from other branches of government.

Mr Nadler responded late in the day with a letter to Mr McGahn's personal attorney, noting that the White House had not invoked executive privilege over the documents and that the Judiciary Committee still expected Mr McGahn to comply with its subpoena.

"I fully expect that the committee will hold Mr McGahn in contempt if he fails to appear before the Committee, unless the White House secures a court order directing otherwise," Mr Nadler wrote.

Mr Nadler had asked Mr McGahn to produce the documents by Tuesday morning. The committee also subpoenaed Mr McGahn to testify at a deposition. Neither committee officials nor Mr McGahn's lawyer were immediately available to comment on whether he would do so.

"Because Mr McGahn does not have the legal right to disclose these documents to third parties, I would ask the Committee to direct any request for such records to the White House, the appropriate legal custodian," Mr Cipollone said.

 
 
 

CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATION

House Democrats have sought Mr McGahn's cooperation as part of their investigation of possible corruption and obstruction of justice by Mr Trump. The President denies wrongdoing.

Mr Mueller's 448-page report referred to conversations in June 2017 in which Mr Trump called Mr McGahn to tell him he should direct Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, who was overseeing the special counsel's probe, to remove Mr Mueller because of alleged conflicts of interest.

The report cited "McGahn's clear recollection" that the President directed him to tell Mr Rosenstein that "Mueller has to go". Mr McGahn did not carry out Mr Trump's order, the report said.

Mr Trump also tried unsuccessfully to get Mr McGahn to dispute media reports that the President had attempted to fire Mr Mueller, the report said.

Mr Trump is fighting congressional Democrats on several fronts.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday denied a request by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal for Mr Trump's tax returns.

The House Judiciary Committee has set a vote for Wednesday on whether to cite Mr Barr with contempt of Congress over his refusal to provide it with a full, unredacted version of Mr Mueller's report that the Democrats have since subpoenaed.

"In the face of the committee's threatened contempt vote, the Attorney-General will be compelled to request that the President invoke executive privilege with respect to the materials subject to the subpoena," Assistant Attorney-General Stephen Boyd wrote in a Tuesday letter to Mr Nadler seen by Reuters later that day.

A US House Democratic aide said the vote is still set for Wednesday, and that Democrats had earlier tried to negotiate with the department in order to avoid the a contempt citation.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump, his three oldest children and the Trump Organisation also have sued Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp to try to block them from responding to US congressional subpoenas issued by Democrats seeking financial records.

Republicans in Congress have rejected the efforts of Democratic-led House committees as political gamesmanship intended to appeal to the Democratic Party's voting base ahead of the 2020 election.

In a statement late on Tuesday, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Republican Doug Collins blasted Mr Nadler for rejecting offers by the Justice Department to let Democrats see a lesser-redacted version of the Mueller report.

"It appears that the more access to information Democrats receive, the less interested they are in actually examining those facts," Mr Collins said.