- The Washington Times
Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The White House intervened on Tuesday to block former White House counsel Don McGahn from complying with a congressional subpoena, suggesting President Trump might assert executive privilege to shield the documents.

The House Judiciary Committee had asked Mr. McGahn to turn over documents that could detail demands by the president to fire special counsel Robert Mueller for “conflicts of interest.” Chairman Jerrold Nadler had set a Tuesday deadline.

But Pat Cipollone, Mr. McGahn’s successor as chief White House lawyer, sent a letter directing Mr. McGahn not to comply. He also told the Judiciary Committee to deal directly with the White House, not Mr. McGahn, who is now back in private life.

“The White House records remain legally protected from disclosure under long-standing constitutional principles because they implicate significant executive branch confidential interest and executive privilege,” Mr. Cipollone wrote in both letters.

The White House has not asserted privilege, leaving some room for negotiation.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, said Mr. Trump has lost the chance to claim privilege because he allowed Mr. McGahn to share the documents with Mr. Mueller’s team.

“Even if the president were to properly invoke privilege, any claim of executive privilege has been waived as to documents that the White House voluntarily disclosed to Mr. McGahn and his counsel,” Mr. Nadler said in a statement.

“Moreover, with regard to Mr. McGahn’s testimonial obligations, there is no valid executive privilege invocation that could be asserted in good faith regarding the subject of the Special Counsel’s investigation and report,” he added.

Mr. Cipollone wrote that the documents are still Mr. Trump’s property, stating that Mr. McGahn “does not have any legal right to disclose such records.”

The McGahn documents are part of the evidence Mr. Mueller used to compile his 448-page report.

Mr. Nadler is also clashing with the Trump administration over access to an unredacted version of that report. Attorney General William P. Barr has missed two House deadlines, and Mr. Nadler has scheduled a vote Wednesday morning to begin the process of holding him in contempt of Congress.

Both sides negotiated Tuesday in an effort to head off the vote, but there was no breakthrough announced by the evening.

Mr. Nadler warned if Mr. McGahn doesn’t comply with the subpoena request or skips a scheduled hearing with the Judiciary Committee, he could face the same fate as Mr. Barr.

“I fully expect that the committee will hold Mr. McGahn in contempt if he fails to appear before the committee, unless the White House secures a court order directing otherwise,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s efforts to fire Mr. Mueller is detailed vividly in the special counsel’s report.

In June 2017, the president ordered Mr. McGahn to fire the special counsel after reports surfaced Mr. Mueller had started an obstruction of justice inquiry, the report said. Mr. Trump called Mr. McGahn at home and directed him to say that Mr. Mueller must be fired because of “conflicts of interest,” according to the report.

Fearing a potential “Saturday Night Massacre,” Mr. McGahn refused, indicating he would rather resign than fire Mr. Mueller, the report said.

Mr. Mueller kept his job and Mr. McGahn left the administration last year.

William Burck, Mr. McGahn’s lawyer, did not publicly respond to the Cipollone letters.

The top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, called Mr. Nadler’s demand “unwieldy” and urged Democrats to negotiate with the administration.

“I hope Chairman Nadler accepts this reasonable offer rather than continuing to reject good-faith offers to negotiate,” Mr. Collins said.

Since the Mueller report was released, the White House has moved to discredit Mr. McGahn. Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, last month questioned the veracity of what Mr. McGahn told the special counsel.

“It can’t be taken at face value,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview with the New York Times. “It could be the product of an inaccurate recollection or could be the product of something else.”

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.