Trump vows to stonewall ‘all’ sub­poe­nas from the House

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY CHAR­LIE SAV­AGE

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion es­ca­lated its de­fi­ance of Congress on Wed­nes­day, as the Jus­tice De­part­ment re­fused to let an of­fi­cial tes­tify on Capi­tol Hill and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump vowed to fight what he called a “ridicu­lous” sub­poena or­der­ing a for­mer top aide to ap­pear be­fore law­mak­ers.

“We’re fight­ing all the sub­poe­nas,” Trump told reporters out­side the White House. “These aren’t, like, im­par­tial peo­ple. The Democrats are try­ing to win 2020.”

The moves added to an al­ready re­mark­able week of stonewalling by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion after the re­lease of the re­port by spe­cial coun­sel, Robert Mueller, that re­vealed the scope of the Rus­sian op­er­a­tion to help Trump win the 2016 elec­tion and de­tailed his at­tempts to im­pede an in­ves­ti­ga­tion he saw as im­per­il­ing his pres­i­dency.

Trump’s flurry of moves this week to block mul­ti­ple con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tions sig­naled a new phase of con­sti­tu­tional fric­tion that could re­de­fine long-murky bound­aries of Congress’ power to con­duct over­sight of the ex­ec­u­tive branch – and the power of pres­i­dents to keep gov­ern­ment af­fairs se­cret from law­mak­ers.

As a mat­ter of pol­i­tics, Trump’s strat­egy sets the stage for open war­fare with House Democrats heading into the 2020 elec­tion. The re­sults could be un­pre­dictable at a time when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried to keep a lid on lib­eral de­mands for im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings – which are un­likely to suc­ceed in re­mov­ing Trump be­cause sub­stan­tial num­bers of Se­nate Repub­li­cans would have to vote for them – by chan­nel­ing their en­er­gies into vig­or­ous over­sight in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

As a mat­ter of law, Trump’s de­clared tac­tic of fight­ing ev­ery sub­poena faces steep ob­sta­cles,

‘‘ I THOUGHT AFTER TWO YEARS WE’D BE FINISHED WITH IT. NO. NOW THE HOUSE GOES AND STARTS SUB­POE­NAS.... I SAY IT’S ENOUGH.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump

le­gal experts said. The House can vote to hold in con­tempt of­fi­cials who refuse to show up in re­sponse to sub­poe­nas and ask judges for or­ders re­quir­ing com­pli­ance.

Lit­i­ga­tion over whether those sub­poe­nas were le­git­i­mate will turn on prece­dents that re­quire both branches to make good-faith ef­forts to ac­com­mo­date each other’s needs. It will also delve into whether ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege is waived in in­stances in which the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has al­ready dis­closed some of the in­for­ma­tion that the pres­i­dent is try­ing to keep from Congress.

But ul­ti­mately, pre­vail­ing in court may not be the goal. By es­sen­tially forc­ing Democrats to keep fil­ing law­suits to try to en­force their sub­poe­nas, Trump will be fight­ing what he can por­tray as “presidential ha­rass­ment” and to stall the in­quiries them­selves.

On Wed­nes­day, the Jus­tice De­part­ment said a civil rights di­vi­sion of­fi­cial, John Gore, would defy a sub­poena to tes­tify Thurs­day about its ad­di­tion of a ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion to the cen­sus. This week, White House lawyers in­di­cated that they would tell for­mer White House coun­sel Don­ald F. McGahn II and other for­mer of­fi­cials not to com­ply with sub­poe­nas for their tes­ti­mony, a per­son fa­mil­iar with the le­gal strat­egy said.

Trump has also sued to block a con­gres­sional sub­poena of his ac­count­ing firm, Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin missed a dead­line to turn over Trump’s tax re­turns to law­mak­ers and the for­mer head of White House per­son­nel se­cu­rity, Carl Kline, ig­nored a sub­poena or­der­ing him to ap­pear for a de­po­si­tion about over­rid­ing rec­om­men­da­tions to deny se­cu­rity clear­ances.

To­gether, the events of the week made clear that Trump has adopted a strat­egy of un­abashed re­sis­tance to over­sight ef­forts by the House – rev­el­ing in aban­don­ing even the pre­tense of try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate ac­com­mo­da­tions and com­pro­mise with the institution con­trolled by his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

“The pres­i­dent is at­tempt­ing to re­peal a con­gres­sional power of over­sight that goes back to the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton,” said Charles Tiefer, a for­mer long­time House lawyer who is now a Univer­sity of Bal­ti­more law pro­fes­sor. He said “the com­pre­hen­sive­ness and in­ten­sity of this presidential stonewalling” ex­ceeded any­thing he had seen in his 40-year ca­reer.

He added: “Congress can call wit­nesses about prob­lems with the ex­ec­u­tive branch any­time. Oth­er­wise there is no check on whether the ex­ec­u­tive branch is do­ing the public’s work or just ex­er­cis­ing raw power.”

Speaking with reporters Wed­nes­day, Trump cited the end of the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion to de­clare he had been in­ves­ti­gated enough. “I thought after two years we’d be finished with it,” he said. “No. Now the House goes and starts sub­poe­nas.” He added, “I say it’s enough.”

He also falsely stated that Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tors “came up with no ob­struc­tion.” In fact, they laid out ex­ten­sive ev­i­dence that he com­mit­ted that crime sev­eral times but stopped short of de­cid­ing whether to ac­cuse him of it only be­cause the Jus­tice De­part­ment con­sid­ers sit­ting pres­i­dents tem­po­rar­ily immune from in­dict­ment.

And on Twit­ter, Trump of­fered a novel idea for push­ing back against any im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings if House Democrats tried to move for­ward with them: He would get the Supreme Court to or­der them to stop.

“If the par­ti­san Dems ever tried to Im­peach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Trump wrote over two posts. “Not only are there no ‘High Crimes and Mis­de­meanors,’ there are no Crimes by me at all.”

Noth­ing in the Con­sti­tu­tion or U.S. le­gal his­tory gives the Supreme Court a role in de­cid­ing whether Congress has misiden­ti­fied what counts as a high crime or mis­de­meanor for the pur­pose of im­peach­ment.

Not­with­stand­ing Trump’s de­nun­ci­a­tion of the sub­poena to McGahn, his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s le­gal team has not put for­ward any le­gal the­ory for why ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege – the pres­i­dent’s power to keep se­cret cer­tain internal ex­ec­u­tive branch in­for­ma­tion – would ban the kind of tes­ti­mony the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee is seek­ing from the for­mer White House lawyer: es­sen­tially, to go over what he al­ready told Mueller.

Trump waived ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege to let Mueller freely ques­tion McGahn about their con­ver­sa­tions, and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr made McGahn’s accounts public by dis­clos­ing most of the spe­cial coun­sel’s re­port – likely a fur­ther waiver of the priv­i­lege.

SU­SAN WALSH AP

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Wed­nes­day threat­ened to take any im­peach­ment battle with Congress to the Supreme Court.

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