Even though Special Counsel Robert Mueller has concluded his Russia probe, the Trump team is continuing to face pressure from the Russia scandal, and they’re lashing out. They’ve now issued a demand for former White House counsel Don McGahn to defy a subpoena for documents from the Democrat-majority House Judiciary Committee, led at present by Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). Currently serving White House counsel Pat Cipillone told the panel that they should go through the administration for the document requests, which he said only provided the material to McGahn under the pretense of it being used for the Mueller probe.
As he put it in a letter to the panel:
‘The White House records remain legally protected from disclosure under longstanding constitutional principles, because they implicate significant executive branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege.’
The irony in Cipillone’s assertion is that the White House has stonewalled in the face of House Democratic attempts at oversight at nearly every turn. Probes have been launched at the Judiciary, Oversight, Ways and Means Committees and beyond and repeatedly, the Trump White House has refused to hand over documents. Besides their new demand surrounding McGahn’s relationship with the committee, they’ve gone from refusing to disclose information relating to their security clearance process to blatantly breaking with legal precedent to refuse to hand over any of President Trump’s tax returns.
McGahn is still set to testify before the House Judiciary panel, but the new demands from Cipillone set up a cloud over that interaction. The Trump team had already indicated prior to Cipillone dropping his document demand that they possibly intended to invoke the ever-elusive concept of “executive privilege” to keep McGahn from testifying.
Nadler had sought a wide-ranging cache of information from McGahn, covering officials like former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, former FBI director James Comey, and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and relating to his and Mueller’s time in office and the president’s response to it.
He could shine a key light on an issue legally implicating the president — alleged obstruction of justice. As outlined in the Mueller probe’s final report, Trump at one point tried to get McGahn to have Mueller removed, but the lawyer refused. Trump then sought to have him produce a memo denying that Trump had ever made the order, but he refused that too. The overall picture suggests that the key reason the president hasn’t been criminally charged for this and other similar behavior is standing Justice Department precedent against indicting a sitting president — at least that’s the take of the more than 400 and counting former federal prosecutors who’ve signed onto a letter to that effect.
In the face of rising Democratic outrage over this, the president and his team have established themselves as only ever-more adversarial towards Congressional investigations. Trump has pledged to push back against “all the subpoenas.” Some like presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have suggested that concern over presidential obstruction of justice should culminate in impeachment proceedings against Trump — but that hasn’t happened, yet at least.
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