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 TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist 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 MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump 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 NadlerTrump knocks Mueller after deal struck for him to testify House Democrats request briefing on Epstein, Acosta Nadler apologized after repeatedly calling Hope Hicks 'Ms. Lewandowski' at hearing 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 BarrImmigration advocacy groups sue Trump administration over asylum restrictions Webb: Questions for Robert Mueller Groups sue Trump admin over new asylum restrictions 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 ConwayKellyanne Conway says she meant 'no disrespect' with question about reporter's ethnicity Kellyanne Conway asks reporter 'what's your ethnicity' while defending Trump's 'go back' comments about minority lawmakers Conway: Progressive congresswomen represent 'dark underbelly in this country' 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 PelosiHouse unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Al Green: 'We have the opportunity to punish' Trump with impeachment vote 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 - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment White House, Congress inch toward debt, budget deal Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout 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 CummingsLawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens House poised to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Trump's family separation policy has taken US to 'lowest depth possible,' says former immigration lawyer MORE (D-Md.), have threatened to hold officials in contempt who do not comply with congressional subpoenas.

Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsHouse unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Trump praises GOP unity in opposing resolution condemning tweets House votes to condemn Trump for 'racist comments' 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.