Democrats are cranking up the heat on the White House in an escalating battle over congressional subpoenas that's inching closer to a breaking point

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., walks to a closed-door meeting with committee Democrats at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, March 25, 2019.
  • The White House and House Democrats sent a series of dueling letters on Tuesday, as the two ramp up their fight over post-Mueller report investigations.
  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, sent a letter on Tuesday to former White House counsel Don McGahn’s lawyer William Burck.
  • The letter was three-and-a-half pages, but the conclusion was straightforward: if McGahn did not show up to a hearing later in May, the House would likely have “no choice” but to hold him in contempt.
  • On April 22, Nadler delivered a subpoena to McGahn requesting that he deliver a series of documents to the committee by May 7 at 10 a.m. local time, and testify before the committee on May 21.
  • Nadler, however, did not receive the requested documents. Instead Burck sent Nadler a letter, which explained that the White House does not want McGahn to cooperate.
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The White House and House Democrats sent a series of dueling letters on Tuesday, as the two ramp up their fight over post-Mueller report investigations.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, sent a letter on Tuesday to former White House counsel Don McGahn’s lawyer William Burck. The letter was three and a half pages, but the conclusion was straightforward: if McGahn did not show up to a hearing later in May, the House would likely have “no choice” but to hold him in contempt.

On April 22, Nadler delivered a subpoena to McGahn requesting that he deliver a series of documents to the committee by May 7 at 10 a.m. local time, and testify before the committee on May 21.

Nadler, however, did not receive the requested documents. Instead Burck sent Nadler a letter, which explained that the White House does not want McGahn to cooperate.


Read more:
The White House is blocking Don McGahn from cooperating with Congress about the Mueller probe

Current White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone wrote Burck, instructing McGahn not to produce the documents, “‘because they implicate significant Executive Branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege,'” Burck wrote quoting Cipollone’s letter.

“Where co-equal branches of government are making contradictory demands on Mr. McGahn concerning the same set of documents, the appropriate response for Mr. McGahn is to maintain the status quo unless and until the committee and the executive branch can reach an accommodation,” Burck said.

In his response, Nadler countered that “this blanket suggestion of potential [executive] privilege is entirely insufficient.” Nadler wrote that “absent a court-order authorizing noncompliance,” McGahn would have to comply.

The importance of Don McGahn

Following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page redacted report at the end of the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump signalled he would not participate in further investigations, while also declaring himself “exonerated” by the report.

The document itself offers a more nuanced conclusion. It is broken into two volumes: one on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, and a second looking at potential obstruction of justice.

In the case of Russian interference, Mueller found that Russian agents had worked to hurt Democrats and then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The special counsel’s office also noted contact between Russian agents and members of the Trump campaign. There was no evidence, however, to prove that there was a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals.

On the case of obstruction of justice, the special counsel neither charged or exonerated the president, and the report suggests that “separation-of-powers doctrine authorizes Congress to protect official proceedings, including those of courts and grand juries, from corrupt, obstructive acts regardless of their source.”


Read more:
Justice Department threatens to advise Trump to invoke executive privilege over Mueller report amid Democrats’ plan to hold Attorney General Barr in contempt

Democrats in the House of Representatives, while not racing to an impeachment inquiry, are choosing to conduct their own investigations into the Trump administration – including potential obstruction of justice.

Trump previously said he would fight congressional subpoenas – writs that compel the attendance of a person in court, or in this case, a hearing. The White House is setting up another showdown on whether Attorney General William Barr will be held in contempt of Congress (a vote is scheduled for Wednesday).

McGahn’s interactions with Trump are mentioned several times in Mueller’s report, which lists multiple instances of potential obstruction of justice.

Last week, Trump told Fox News that he did not want McGahn to testify, saying, “That is all. It’s done.”

The tug-of-war between House Democrats and the White House has also split Capitol Hill, and the rift has been visible in the statements from Republican leaders who consider the Mueller report to be the end of the matter, rather than a “roadmap” for ongoing investigations, as some Democrats describe it.

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