Trump, Dems escalate battles over investigations

The White House on Tuesday intervened to stop former White House counsel Don McGahn from turning over documents subpoenaed by the House, escalating a standoff with congressional Democrats over their investigations of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE.  

Pat Cipollone, the current top White House lawyer, demanded that the House Judiciary Committee go through the West Wing to request the McGahn documents, which detail incidents special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerHouse progressive: Pelosi 'has it right' on impeachment Democrats talk subpoena for Mueller Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna: 'I'm not there yet' on impeachment MORE investigated for possible obstruction charges against Trump.

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The White House said Trump may want to assert executive privilege over the records, a move that would anger Democrats who have accused the president of trying to derail what they say are legitimate investigations into the administration as well as Trump’s campaign and businesses.

“The White House provided these records to Mr. McGahn in connection with its cooperation with the special counsel's investigation and with the clear understanding that the records remain subject to the control of the White House for all purposes,” Cipollone wrote in a letter to Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDemocrats are running out of stunts to pull from impeachment playbook Trump asks if Nadler will look into Clinton's 'deleted and acid washed' emails Trump tweets conservative commentator's criticism of FBI director MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Judiciary 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.”

A House panel on Wednesday is set to vote on holding Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign Justin Amash confirms collusion witch hunt was all about politics MORE in contempt of Congress. Negotiators at press time had failed to reach a deal on terms for Barr to provide Mueller’s full, unredacted report and its underlying evidence to lawmakers, the issue triggering the contempt debate.

House investigators are hoping to obtain some of that material from McGahn, a star witness in Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and obstruction of justice.

While Cipollone’s letter floats the possibility of a privilege claim, which is intended to keep private conversations between the president and his advisers from public view, Trump has yet to invoke that power.  

Democrats and some legal experts say the White House forfeited its ability to block the material when it allowed McGahn to speak to the special counsel’s office, which then published a report containing the details of his testimony. Trump did not make privilege claims over the contents of the report.

McGahn had been given a Tuesday morning deadline to turn over the documents by the Judiciary Committee, which subpoenaed the materials on April 22.

House Democrats have wielded the threat of subpoenas and contempt proceedings to compel the Trump administration to comply with their requests, but the White House has vociferously fought their demands. Trump has pledged to fight “all the subpoenas” and accused Democrats of “presidential harassment.”

Nadler last month subpoenaed the Justice Department to turn over Mueller’s full report and its underlying evidence, but the department has not produced the materials, dismissing the request as “overbroad” and dangerous to ongoing investigations.

Justice Department officials and committee staff met Tuesday afternoon to negotiate the request, but no agreement had been announced as of Tuesday evening. The panel is scheduled to vote on a contempt citation against Barr at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Trump also indicated he could open a new front against Democrats on Sunday, when he reversed his previous position and said Mueller should not testify to Congress. The Judiciary Committee had been seeking Mueller’s testimony as early as next week.

The president’s advisers have said that his comments about Mueller were intended as a warning to Congress and not necessarily a direct threat to block the special counsel from answering lawmakers’ questions under oath.

“He hasn’t said that,” White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayConway clashes with Pelosi after Trump infrastructure blowup 'Cover-up' talk enrages Trump, who threatens to end work with Democrats The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump blows up meeting after Pelosi 'cover up' remarks MORE said when asked if Trump will stop Mueller from testifying.

“The president’s position is very clear. He has said there is no reason to testify for somebody who has already issued a 448-page report that’s public. Is Mr. Mueller going to go to Capitol Hill and say, ‘Oh, you know what? I forgot. Milk, butter, eggs, indictment. Crime.’ He’s not going to say that,” she continued.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Trump denies 'tantrum' in meeting with Pelosi: 'It is all such a lie!' MORE (D-Calif.) said Tuesday the White House’s defiance of congressional subpoenas could be an impeachable offense and accused Trump of “goading us” into attempting to force him from office.

“Every day he's obstructing justice by saying this one shouldn't testify, that one shouldn't testify, and the rest. So he’s making a case,” Pelosi said at Cornell University’s Institute of Politics and Global Affairs.

Congressional Republicans have signaled they are willing to give Trump cover to battle the probes, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Chances for disaster aid deal slip amid immigration fight MORE (Ky.) declaring on Tuesday that it is “case closed” on Mueller’s investigation and accusing Democrats of having a “meltdown” over his findings.

The White House’s position regardless poses a dilemma for McGahn, who must decide whether to go along with his former boss or defy him and hand over the documents to Congress.

McGahn’s attorney, William Burck, wrote to Nadler separately Tuesday that his client would not turn over the documents until the committee and the White House resolve their dispute because McGahn “continues to owe certain duties and obligations to the president.”

“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 wrote.

Nadler has yet to respond to the White House’s attempt to stop McGahn from complying with his panel’s subpoena. The move raised the possibility that the Judiciary Committee chairman could move to hold McGahn in contempt, similar to how the panel reacted to Barr. Other committee chairmen, including Oversight and Reform’s Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsNancy Pelosi fends off impeachment wave — for now House Democrats, Trump lawyers ask appeals court to expedite subpoena case Lawmakers call for 'time out' on facial recognition tech MORE (D-Md.), have threatened to hold officials in contempt who do not comply with congressional subpoenas.

Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsConservative filmmakers organizing stage play based on Strzok-Page texts: report The Go-Go's rock the stage at annual 'We Write the Songs' DC concert The Hill's 12:30 Report: McGahn inflames Dem divisions on impeachment MORE (R-Ga.), the Judiciary panel’s top Republican, accused Democrats of making “unwieldy demands” and praised the White House’s move to defy the subpoena.  

McGahn’s subpoena calls on him to testify before the Judiciary Committee on May 21.