Democrats are very angry that former White House Counsel Don McGahn, at President Trump’s instruction, defied a subpoena Tuesday for his testimony. But what they intend to do about it is not yet clear.
McGahn’s no-show may prove to be an inflection point in pushing Democrats towards an impeachment process for Trump. But so far, there is still a major division among the caucus — and even among those on the House Judiciary Committee — over whether to move forward with impeachment proceedings, with House leadership still not on board with taking that step.
That division came to a head at a closed door meeting Monday where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was confronted by members of her own leadership team, who sought her blessing for the Judiciary Committee to open an impeachment inquiry. She declined to endorse the idea, the Washington Post reported.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) — who is among those who have made the case for impeachment to Pelosi — told reporters Tuesday that the current debate over impeachment was a “difficult internal political dynamic that the Speaker and the chairman and the members have.”
He added that it was “not going to be easy” to sway Pelosi.
Other key committee members, including its vice chair Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a constitutional law professor, openly expressed support for opening an impeachment inquiry, adding to the public pressure.
Pelosi has now reportedly scheduled a caucus-wide meeting Wednesday morning to discuss where House Democrats stand on their oversight of Trump, and there is an expectation that impeachment will be addressed.
It’s worth noting that the reluctance towards impeaching Trump is not leadership’s alone.
“We want to make sure that we’re following all the legal processes — everything that we have been given — to truly make the best decisions, and the only thing we can do at this time are subpoenas and to address all of this in court,” Rep. Lucy McBath, a Judiciary Democrat who represents a swing district in Georgia, told reporters.
McGahn’s non-compliance Tuesday was the latest volley in an all out war by the Trump administration to resist nearly all demands for information from House Democrats. Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) pointed to the favorable ruling his committee recently secured from a federal judge backing his subpoena of Trump’s accounting firm, which Trump sued to block compliance.
“I think what is happening, the initial aim was to investigate and then see what we have. The problem is we can’t get any information,” Cummings said, bringing up the efforts by Trump and others to block cooperation with congressional oversight.
“I think we are in a position where we are moving more and more towards [an impeachment inquiry] because he’s not leaving us with any choices,” Cummings said.
That larger question aside, there’s also the issue of how to address McGahn’s lack of compliance with the House Judiciary Committee subpoena, which came after Trump’s Justice Department issued an legal opinion claiming Congress had no authority to compel McGahn’s testimony, citing his “testimonial immunity” as a former White House advisor.
McGahn’s lawyer told the committee that McGahn thus felt “obligated” to follow the White House’s instruction that he not participate in the hearing.
Nadler floated the possibility of holding McGahn in contempt on Monday evening, and he alluded to such a move in his remarks Tuesday.
“Let me be clear: this Committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it,” Nadler said.
Logistically speaking, however, the window of time for the committee to hold a similar vote for McGahn this week is quickly closing, as it has to give 48 hours notice for such a meeting, and many members already have plans to fly out on Thursday for Congress’ week-long Memorial Day Weekend recess. That would mean such a vote would have to wait until lawmakers return next month.
In the meantime, Judiciary Committee Democrat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) told reporters after Tuesday’s hearing that she planned to introduce this week a House resolution directing the Judiciary Committee to investigate whether there are “sufficient grounds” for the House open an impeachment inquiry
“Our task is to educate, before we activate,” Jackson Lee said, later adding that the resolution was not a formal impeachment resolution, but the beginning of a two-step process. It is not clear the breadth of support for the resolution has and whether it will get a vote on the House floor.
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