White House repeatedly blocks ex-aide from answering Judiciary panel questions

White House repeatedly blocks ex-aide from answering Judiciary panel questions
© Greg Nash

The House Judiciary Committee on Monday released written answers submitted by former White House aide Annie Donaldson showing that the White House blocked her from responding to numerous questions about former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE’s investigation. 

Donaldson’s responses, which cover 55 pages, touch heavily on her two-year tenure in the White House serving as chief of staff to former White House counsel Don McGahn.

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The White House blocked Donaldson from answering questions related to President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE’s conduct Mueller had examined as potential evidence of obstruction of justice.

Donaldson refused to answer questions 212 times, according to the committee, even though her notes and testimony had been featured extensively in Mueller’s 448-page report. 

Donaldson confirmed the accuracy of some of her notes and testimony as detailed in Mueller’s repor but the White House blocked her from answering questions about several episodes Mueller examined as potentially obstructive conduct.

These include efforts by Trump to persuade then-attorney general Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWhite House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations The Hill's Campaign Report: Late bids surprise 2020 Democratic field Sessions vows to 'work for' Trump endorsement MORE not to recuse himself from the Russia investigations and Trump’s instruction that McGahn have Mueller removed over alleged conflicts of interest. 

The White House asked Donaldson not to respond to certain inquiries because they implicate “constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests,” according to the transcript of her written answers.

The White House did not invoke the concept of immunity of senior presidential advisers from compelled congressional testimony, as it has done with respect to McGahn and former White House communications director Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksFormer White House official won't testify, lawyer says Trump: 'Top shows' on Fox News, cable are 'Fair (or great)' to me Trump criticizes Fox, which 'isn't working for us anymore' MORE.

“The White House has directed that I not respond to this question because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated,” Donaldson answered to numerous questions.

Donaldson is one of a handful of former White House aides the Judiciary panel has subpoenaed to testify as part of its sprawling investigation into allegations of obstruction and abuses of power by Trump.

Mueller did not reach a conclusion one way or another on whether Trump obstructed the investigation into Russian interference. 

McGahn evaded a public appearance in May after the White House instructed him not to show up, citing a Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion that he is immune from compelled congressional testimony about his time in the West Wing.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' What this 'impeachment' is really about — and it's not the Constitution MORE (D-N.Y.) said he plans to go to court soon to civilly enforce the subpoena for documents and testimony from McGahn. 

White House lawyers also repeatedly blocked Hicks from answering questions 155 times during her closed door interview with the committee last month, according to a transcript that was subsequently released. 

Nadler had subpoenaed Donaldson in May to submit to a transcribed interview on June 24. He announced an agreement with her last month to receive written answers instead and Donaldson, who is pregnant, has agreed to give testimony sometime after November 1. 

According to the transcript released Monday, Donaldson answered some mundane questions about her tenure in the White House. She explained how she was hired -- after discussing the position with McGahn as an associate at his law firm Jones Day -- and said she worked under the White House counsel between January 20, 2017, and December 21, 2018. 

She also described her job responsibilities and said she was in meetings directly with Trump on less than 10 occasions. 

Donaldson repeatedly told the committee that she did not have “an independent recollection” of certain episodes detailed in Mueller’s report. For example, she said she could not recall if she was with McGahn when Trump called him and urged him to reach out to Sessions and urge him not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

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She also said she was not present for a March 3, 2017, meeting during which Trump expressed anger at McGahn for not advocating more forcefully for him. 

The White House did not let Donaldson answer questions about her hand-written notes that are referenced in the special counsel’s sprawling report. Donaldson repeatedly said she had no reason to question the accuracy of her notes as described in Mueller’s report but wouldn’t comment further on their contents, citing the White House’s directions. 

At one point, she was asked about one note she wrote referencing “another Russia Fiasco” referring back to a discussion between Trump and McGahn in March 2017 related to Sessions's potential recusal.

Donaldson answered that she had “no reason to question the accuracy” of the quotation of her notes as written in the report, but declined to comment further on the substance of her statement. 

Donaldson was also asked about conversations she heard or may have had with McGahn, who also provided extensive testimony to Mueller. Donaldson, who would answer when asked if she was present or not for certain conversations, also pointed to the White House’s “confidentiality interests” when responding to such questions.

She also pointed to the same confidentiality interests when asked about the circumstances surrounding the president’s decision to fire former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyChris Wallace on Yovanovitch testimony: 'If you're not moved, you don't have a pulse' Day one impeachment hearings draw 13.1M viewers, down 32 percent from Comey hearings There are poor ideas, bad ones and Facebook's Libra MORE as he was leading the bureau’s investigation into Russian interference, and the decision to name Mueller as special counsel. 

She provided the same response when asked about the episodes detailed in the Mueller report in which McGahn refused to follow the president’s orders to remove the special counsel and issue a statement denying that such a request had been made.

When asked generally about the president making requests to issue false statements, Donaldson told the committee she “did not witness the President direct anyone to make any statement that was, to my knowledge, untrue.”

Donaldson also answered that the White House had not prevented her from answering Mueller’s questions, stating that she was “encouraged” to “cooperate fully with the special counsel.”

Updated at 7:20 p.m.