Congress and White House fight over subpoenas for former aides Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson
Two former aides to President Donald Trump missed a deadline Tuesday to provide documents to congressional investigators, as lawmakers and the White House dug in for a protracted fight in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
The House Judiciary Committee had issued subpoenas for documents and testimony from Hope Hicks, Trump's former communications director, and Annie Donaldson, former chief of staff to the White House counsel. House Democrats said Tuesday the Trump administration told them both subpoenas should have been directed to the White House, which has broadly refused to comply with congressional inquiries.
The missed deadline opened yet another front in the wide-ranging clash between the Trump administration and Democratic led House panels investigating it.
The move came a day after the House scheduled a vote July 11 on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for refusing to provide Congress a complete copy of Mueller’s report. Don McGahn, a former White House counsel, has also refused to testify and provide documents under subpoena, and might be included in the same contempt resolution, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland.
The Justice Department offered in a letter Tuesday to reopen negotiations the House Judiciary Committee for Congress to receive more information about the Mueller report and its underlying evidence. But the letter from assistant attorney general Stephen Boyd, who called the subpoena "unworkably overbroad," said the committee would have to overturn its contempt vote against Barr and resume negotiations to narrow the scope for more limited documents.
“As we have made clear from the outset, the department remains mindful of its constitutional obligation and its desire to explore ways it can accommodate, to the extent possible, Congress's legitimate interests in materials relating to the special counsel's investigation," Boyd said, referring to cooperation with the Intelligence Committee.
Mueller himself gave a rare statement May 29, saying his report should speak for itself. and that he should not be summoned to testify. But House Democrats said Mueller’s testimony under questioning will be needed – even if under subpoena – to flesh out details in the report.
“Questioning is an important fact-finding pursuit,” Hoyer said. “If he won’t testify, I think we ought to issue a subpoena anyway.”
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said Hicks has agreed to turn over documents related to her work on Trump’s campaign. Nadler said documents they took with them when they left the White House also would not be privileged. Hearings are scheduled June 19 with Hicks and June 24 with Donaldson, although neither has said they will appear.
"The president has no lawful basis for preventing these witnesses from complying with our request,” Nadler said.
Trump has argued that Congress has no legitimate role in investigating him, particularly in the aftermath of a special counsel probe that did not find he had committed a crime. ts.
Trump and the White House have instructed executive-branch officials not to cooperate with congressional inquiries, which Trump calls partisan attacks. Federal courts have so far largely disagreed, refusing to block two subpoenas for Trump’s financial records, but the president and his businesses are appealing those decisions.
As Congress and the White House maneuver over subpoenas, two House chairmen announced a series of hearings in their committees to educate the American public about what is in Mueller’s report. Nadler’s hearings will focus on obstruction of justice and begin June 10 with John Dean, a former White House counsel for President Richard Nixon, who testified during the Watergate hearings.
“While the White House continues to cover up and stonewall, and to prevent the American people from knowing the truth, we will continue to move forward with our investigation,” Nadler said. “These hearings will allow us to examine the findings laid out in Mueller’s report so that we can work to protect the rule of law and protect future elections through consideration of legislative and other remedies.”
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., will focus on the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation for Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“What are the implications of a presidential candidate seeking to make money in the capital of a hostile foreign power during the campaign and lying about it?” Schiff asked Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations. “And why would that be a counterintelligence concern for the FBI and for the country? We’ll be exploring all these issues.”
House Democrats have disagreed about the pace of the investigations into Trump and his businesses. More than 50 lawmakers have called for impeachment proceedings, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has shied away from that step because the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to remove Trump from office.
House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee said hearings could educate the American public about the contents of Mueller’s report.
“I think we have to do this in a very sober, judicious thoughtful way, and it’s going to take time,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland and a former professor of constitutional law, said any impeachment proceeding would likely have to begin during 2019, but could continue during 2020.
“I think the caucus is unified obviously in opposing the lawlessness and obstructionism of the Trump administration,” Raskin said. “There are a lot of tools in that tool kit.”