Democrats unveil new strategy in subpoena battles with Trump

William Barr

FILE – In this May 1, 2019, file photo, Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Barr is defending his short summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his Russia investigation. Barr says his summary accurately captured the report’s conclusions. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats are poised to make it easier for their committee chairmen to take President Donald Trump’s administration to court, escalating their legal efforts against a president who has vowed to fight “all of the subpoenas.”

A resolution unveiled Thursday would authorize contempt cases against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Donald McGahn for failing to comply with subpoenas. It would also empower committee chairmen to take legal action to enforce subpoenas in the future without a vote of the full House, so long as they have approval from a bipartisan group of House leaders. Democrats have the majority on the five-person group.

Trump’s vow to stonewall House Democrats has left them with few good options outside the courtroom to pursue investigations of the president.

Barr defied a subpoena to provide an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia report, along with underlying evidence from the report. McGahn, who is frequently referenced in the report, has defied subpoenas to provide documents and testify before the Judiciary Committee.

The White House directed McGahn not to comply with requests for documents during his tenure there, and has also directed other witnesses not to comply. Former communications director Hope Hicks and a former aide to McGahn, Annie Donaldson, also defied subpoenas this week at the request of the White House. The administration said they don’t have the legal right to turn over documents from their time working for Trump.

The House is scheduled to vote on the resolution Tuesday. By allowing committee chairs to act without a House vote in the future, leaders can avoid tying up precious floor time — and also prevent Democrats from more conservative districts from taking multiple votes on contempt resolutions. Many of those members have said they would prefer to be working on policy instead of investigations of the president.

At the opposite end of the Democratic caucus, several of the most liberal members are pressuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to open impeachment proceedings against Trump. But Pelosi has so far rejected that option, preferring a slower, more methodical approach to investigating the president — including the court fights.

As part of the step-by-step effort endorsed by Pelosi, the Judiciary Committee will hold a series of hearings on “crimes and other misconduct” in Mueller’s report, starting with a hearing on Monday, the day before the contempt votes, on whether Trump committed obstruction of justice. That hearing will feature John Dean, who was White House counsel for President Richard Nixon, and former U.S. attorneys.

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