Trump Vows Stonewall of ‘All’ House Subpoenas

The Trump administration escalated its defiance of Congress on Wednesday, as the Justice Department refused to let an official testify on Capitol Hill

By Charlie Savage | The New York Time | April 24, 2019

WASHINGTON — 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 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,” Mr. 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 the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, that revealed the scope of the Russian operation to help Mr. Trump win the 2016 election and detailed his attempts to impede an investigation he saw as imperiling his presidency.

Mr. 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’s 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, Mr. 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 Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried to keep a lid on liberal demands for impeachment proceedings — which are unlikely to succeed in removing Mr. Trump because substantial numbers of Senate Republicans would have to vote for it — by channeling their energies into vigorous oversight investigations of the administration.

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

On Wednesday, the Justice Department said a civil rights division official, John Gore, would defy a subpoena to testify on Thursday about its addition of a citizenship question to the census. This week, White House lawyers indicated that they would tell the 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.

Mr. Trump has also sued to block a congressional subpoena of his accounting firm, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin missed a deadline to turn over Mr. 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 Mr. 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 on Wednesday, Mr. 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 Mr. 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, Mr. 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.

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“If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Mr. Trump wrote over two