House panel OK’d to raise heat in probe

Vote au­tho­rizes the tak­ing of Barr, McGahn to court

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Front Page - COM­PILED BY DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE STAFF FROM WIRE RE­PORTS

WASH­ING­TON — The House took its strong­est step yet in the stand­off with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump over con­gres­sional over­sight, vot­ing Tues­day to seek court en­force­ment of sub­poe­nas for At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr and for­mer White House coun­sel Don­ald McGahn.

On a party-line vote of 229-191, the House passed a res­o­lu­tion that would em­power the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee to go to court against Barr and McGahn over non­com­pli­ance with re­quests for doc­u­ments and tes­ti­mony.

“We need an­swers to the ques­tions left unan­swered by the Mueller report,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor ahead of vot­ing.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy coun­tered that the Demo­cratic ma­neu­vers are all “just a des­per­ate at­tempt to re­lit­i­gate the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion.” He called it “an im­peach­ment ef­fort in ev­ery­thing but name.”

Arkansas’ four rep­re­sen­ta­tives, all Repub­li­cans, voted against the mea­sure.

The vote keeps Democrats on an in­ves­tiga­tive track fa­vored by Pelosi, D-Calif., and other top lead­ers — and away from the for­mal im­peach­ment in­quiry that some 60 rank-and-file Democrats and sev­eral 2020

pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have been seek­ing.

The House vote re­flects the frus­tra­tion among Democrats with Trump’s un­will­ing­ness to co­op­er­ate with con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors, who ar­gue they have a con­sti­tu­tional right to ex­am­ine the ex­ec­u­tive branch.

“This is a dark time. This Congress is be­ing tested — in this case, not by a for­eign ad­ver­sary, but by our own pres­i­dent,” said House Rules Com­mit­tee Chair­man Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

House Repub­li­cans lam­basted Tues­day’s vote as a distractio­n from big­ger is­sues fac­ing the coun­try, in­clud­ing the south­ern border cri­sis. Mi­nor­ity Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., bor­rowed one of Trump’s fa­vorite de­scrip­tions, calling the vote “pres­i­den­tial ha­rass­ment.”

Democrats have al­ready gone to fed­eral judges in Wash­ing­ton and New York to seek en­force­ment of sub­poe­nas tar­get­ing Trump’s fi­nan­cial records that are in the pos­ses­sion of pri­vate com­pa­nies. They have scored ini­tial wins in trial courts, but ap­peals are likely to play out over the com­ing months.

The vote stops short of a crim­i­nal con­tempt ci­ta­tion, a more se­ri­ous sanc­tion, and it comes a day af­ter the Jus­tice Depart­ment agreed to be­gin pro­vid­ing ma­te­ri­als gath­ered by for­mer spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller dur­ing his nearly two-year probe of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion. Still, Democrats cast the vote as their most se­ri­ous move yet in a cam­paign to hold Trump ac­count­able over al­le­ga­tions that he acted to de­rail Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Head­ing to Iowa, Trump told re­porters that Pelosi “is a mess” and crit­i­cized Democrats’ in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“All they do is waste time where there is no ob­struc­tion, no col­lu­sion. And in the mean­time, we can’t get any­thing done,” said the pres­i­dent. “We need them to work on illegal im­mi­gra­tion, on drug prices, on in­fra­struc­ture.”

Rep. Ha­keem Jef­fries, D-N.Y., chair­man of the House Demo­cratic Cau­cus and a Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee mem­ber, said the ag­gres­sive tac­tics helped force the Jus­tice Depart­ment to make at least some of Mueller’s ma­te­rial available to Congress af­ter a month­s­long stand­off.

“They’ve be­gun to rec­og­nize that we are go­ing to func­tion like a sep­a­rate and co­equal branch of gov­ern­ment,” he said, con­trast­ing Democrats’ pos­ture to that of the pre­vi­ous Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity: “They con­sis­tently bent the knee to Don­ald Trump. That is some­thing we will refuse to do. And we are go­ing to make it clear that no one is above the law, one way or the other.”

HOLD­ING OFF

Barr’s agree­ment to make some of Mueller’s ma­te­ri­als available has at least tem­po­rar­ily fore­stalled any en­force­ment ac­tion on that front.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment’s un­der­stand­ing when it reached a deal with Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Jer­rold Nadler, D-N.Y., was that while the com­mit­tee would pro­ceed with Tues­day’s res­o­lu­tion vote giv­ing the com­mit­tee au­tho­riza­tion to sue, it would not ac­tu­ally file a suit if the Jus­tice Depart­ment held up its end of the bar­gain, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. of­fi­cial. The depart­ment never viewed the res­o­lu­tion as hold­ing the at­tor­ney gen­eral in con­tempt, the of­fi­cial said.

Nadler con­firmed in floor re­marks Tues­day that en­force­ment of the Barr sub­poena would be held “in abeyance for now.” But he said he would go to court “as quickly as pos­si­ble” against McGahn, who at the be­hest of the White House has de­fied sub­poe­nas for doc­u­ments and his tes­ti­mony.

“This un­prece­dented stonewalli­ng by the ad­min­is­tra­tion is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able,” he said.

McGahn was a key wit­ness in Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether Trump ob­structed jus­tice dur­ing the probe. The com­mit­tee can now also pe­ti­tion a fed­eral judge to re­lease pro­tected grand jury ma­te­ri­als gath­ered in the probe, which un­der­pin many of the key sec­tions that Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials redacted from Mueller’s report.

McGahn has so far de­clined to tes­tify pur­suant to a White House le­gal opin­ion hold­ing that close pres­i­den­tial ad­vis­ers can­not be com­pelled to tes­tify. “Mr. McGahn re­mains ob­li­gated to main­tain the sta­tus quo and will re­spect the pres­i­dent’s in­struc­tion,” his lawyer, Wil­liam Burck, told the com­mit­tee last month.

Tues­day’s vote also does noth­ing to bring Mueller be­fore the House for tes­ti­mony, whether pub­lic or pri­vate.

The panel is also seek­ing the tes­ti­mony of two other Trump aides, for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Hope Hicks and An­nie Don­ald­son, a top aide to McGahn. Those sub­poe­nas were not tar­geted for en­force­ment in the res­o­lu­tion passed Tues­day, but it per­mits the com­mit­tee to seek au­tho­riza­tion from the Bi­par­ti­san Le­gal Ad­vi­sory Group, a spe­cial panel of top House lead­ers con­trolled by Democrats — sidestep­ping the need for fu­ture floor votes.

And Nadler added new names to the list, say­ing he is also in­ter­ested in hear­ing from As­sis­tant At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jody Hunt, who served as for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions’ chief of staff, and for­mer White House aide Rick Dear­born. Both are mentioned fre­quently in the Mueller report.

“Ei­ther work with us and com­ply with sub­poe­nas or we’ll see you in court,” said McGovern, the chair­man of the Rules Com­mit­tee.

The chair­man of nearly any House com­mit­tee, in fact, now has the abil­ity to seek au­tho­riza­tion from the group to “ini­ti­ate or in­ter­vene in any ju­di­cial pro­ceed­ing be­fore a fed­eral court” to en­force any duly is­sued sub­poena.

Nadler said Tues­day that the broad au­tho­riza­tion was nec­es­sary to fight the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s stonewalli­ng strat­egy: “We can­not af­ford to waste all the floor time for every sin­gle time the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­jects one of our sub­poe­nas, which is every time we is­sue a sub­poena.”

The chair­men of sev­eral over­sight com­mit­tees said af­ter the vote that Tues­day’s ac­tion ex­tends be­yond the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion into other as­pects of Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing their sub­poena for the pres­i­dent’s tax re­turns.

“This is not just about Rus­sia, this is a broad, co­or­di­nated cam­paign to stall more in­ves­ti­ga­tions across the board,” said Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, D-Md., the chair­man of the Over­sight Com­mit­tee. “We are here in a fight for the soul of our democ­racy and we will use every sin­gle tool that is available to us to hold this ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­count­able.”

McCarthy blasted that move Tues­day, telling re­porters it amounted to an un­prece­dented del­e­ga­tion of leg­isla­tive pow­ers to a small panel of party lead­ers.

“It’s some­thing Congress has never done be­fore,” he said. “What the Demo­crat ma­jor­ity is doing is, they’re try­ing to get to im­peach­ment with­out hav­ing their mem­bers ac­tu­ally vote upon it. They’re try­ing to pro­tect mem­bers from not tak­ing a dif­fi­cult vote.”

The fo­cus on Mueller will con­tinue to­day, when the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee is to re­view the coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence im­pli­ca­tions of Rus­sia’s elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence, as de­tailed in Mueller’s report.

TRUMP SON TO TES­TIFY

Also to­day, the pres­i­dent’s old­est son, Don­ald Trump Jr., is to tes­tify be­fore the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee. Trump Jr.’s re­turn to Capi­tol Hill for a sec­ond pri­vate in­ter­view with mem­bers of the com­mit­tee, ac­cord­ing to people fa­mil­iar with the plans, is part of a deal he struck with lead­ers last month af­ter the panel is­sued a sub­poena for his tes­ti­mony.

It’s the first known sub­poena of a mem­ber of the pres­i­dent’s im­me­di­ate fam­ily, and some Repub­li­cans went so far as to sug­gest Trump Jr. shouldn’t com­ply.

Un­der the terms of the deal, Trump is ex­pected to spend about four hours with the com­mit­tee an­swer­ing a lim­ited num­ber of ques­tions, ac­cord­ing to people fa­mil­iar with the terms — in­clud­ing queries about a June 2016 meet­ing at Trump Tower with a Rus­sian lawyer promis­ing in­crim­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion about Hil­lary Clin­ton.

He is one of sev­eral wit­nesses that the com­mit­tee is bring­ing back to its cham­bers for a sec­ond in­ter­view aimed at giv­ing mem­bers an opportunit­y to en­gage with key fig­ures in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­fore they will be asked to sign off on the panel’s fi­nal report. Its long-run­ning in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions has been largely staff-run, and is widely con­sid­ered to be the most bi­par­ti­san probe into the mat­ter in Congress.

It’s un­cer­tain when the in­tel­li­gence panel will is­sue a fi­nal report. Its co-chair­man, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., told The As­so­ci­ated Press last month that he hopes to be fin­ished with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the end of the year.

The New York Times/TOM BRENNER

Rep. Jer­rold Nadler, D-N.Y., chair­man of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, said Tues­day that the “un­prece­dented stonewalli­ng by the ad­min­is­tra­tion is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able.”

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