The White House has reportedly directed former White House counsel Don McGahn not to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, arguing that as a former senior adviser to the president he is not legally required to appear before the committee to testify about his official duties as counsel to the president.
“The Department of Justice has advised me that Mr. McGahn is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters occurring during his service as a senior adviser to the president,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), CNN reports.
The sentiment was echoed in a statement by White House press secretary Sarah “Suckabee” Sanders, who noted that McGahn “cannot be forced to give such testimony, and Mr. McGahn has been directed to act accordingly.
“This action has been taken in order to ensure that future presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the office of the presidency,” she said.
The White House’s move to keep McGahn off Capitol Hill is the latest move in the battle for the Iron Throne, aka Trump’s favorite White House toilet. The White House has argued that all the moves made by Congress that they don’t agree with are merely judicial overreach and therefore are susceptible to the president making up new moves as they move along.
According to CNN, this would be the second time McGahn has refused a Judiciary Committee subpoena; earlier, he refused to provide documents “related to McGahn’s special counsel interview preparations, which the White House argued were covered by executive privilege.”
While the committee didn’t hold McGahn in contempt for completely ignoring them the first time, they are considering it this time and—don’t get it twisted—being held in contempt of Congress could lead to prison.
“We’ve subpoenaed McGahn. We’re expecting him to show up on the 21st, and if he doesn’t he will be subject to contempt unless he has a court order telling him he can’t, which I don’t think he would get,” Nadler said earlier this month, CNN reports.
The main reason McGahn is the pretty face that everyone wants to take to prom is that the president’s counsel asked for a pack of Newports and a small coffee in a styrofoam cup (the universal sign for snitching during an interrogation) during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the president obstructed justice.
One of the key episodes the special counsel cited in the investigation, which did not exonerate Trump, was when the President told McGahn to fire Mueller and McGahn would not do so.
McGahn is now one of a number of officials who could be held in contempt by Congress.
Earlier this month, Nadler’s committee voted to hold Barr in contempt for refusing to provide the unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence to Congress. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff says he will take an unspecified “enforcement action” against the Justice Department for not complying with the committee’s subpoena for Mueller’s counterintelligence information. And Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin defied the House Ways and Means Committee’s subpoena for President Donald Trump’s tax records last week.
The House is still considering how to handle contempt issues on the floor. One option being considered is to bundle up all of the contempt citations into a single vote to highlight the Trump administration’s stonewalling. Another is to invoke the House’s so-called “inherent contempt” powers to fine or jail officials who are held in contempt without using the court system, although such an action hasn’t been taken in nearly a century.
In its memo Monday, the Justice Department argued that Congress cannot use its inherent contempt powers to punish McGahn for asserting immunity, in what appears to be a preemptive challenge to House Democrats as they contemplate their next steps.
“The constitutional separation of powers bars Congress from exercising its inherent contempt power in the face of presidential assertion of executive privilege,” a Justice Department memo argued. “An attempt to exercise inherent contempt powers in such a circumstance would be without precedent and ‘would immensely burden the President’s ability to assert the privilege and to carry out his constitutional functions.’”
What does all of this mean?
It means that as with all things involving the president, from real estate dealings to pay-for-play sex to president-ing itself, all of this is heading to court. As it stands, the White House has refused to hand over an unredacted Mueller report (and before you say, “But that’s the Department of Justice that has the Mueller report...” I say, “bullshit.” Trump is pulling all of the strings here and he’s behind whatever Barr’s doing), which is also likely headed to court along with Congress’ push to see Trump’s tax returns. Trump has already sued “to block subpoenas to Deutsche Bank, Capital One and an accounting firm that has prepared the president’s financial statements” because that’s what rich white men do.