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White House Instructs Ex-Counsel McGahn Not To Comply With Congressional Subpoena

May 7, 2019
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The White House is once again blocking congressional Democrats' efforts to gather information about President Trump's actions surrounding the special counsel probe. White House officials say they have directed former White House counsel Don McGahn not to cooperate with a House investigation. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe is here with more. Hi, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.

SHAPIRO: OK. What can you tell us today about the White House's instructions for the man who used to be the White House's top lawyer?

RASCOE: Yes. So the - today was a deadline for McGahn to comply with the committee's subpoena, which directed him to turn over documents from his time as White House counsel. These were documents that were shared with special counsel Robert Mueller. The current top lawyer at the White House, Pat Cipollone, wrote a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler. And he basically said that these records remain under the administration's control, and McGahn doesn't have the right to disclose these documents. The letter stopped short of invoking executive privilege, which, at this point, might be difficult because the documents were already released to Mueller. But the White House argues that any request for these records must go through the White House and not to McGahn.

SHAPIRO: What would be in these records that would be of interest to the Judiciary Committee?

RASCOE: Well, you may remember McGahn basically played a starring role in Mueller's report - in particular, the part that focused on possible obstruction of justice by President Trump. And obstruction of justice is what the Judiciary Committee is interested in. McGahn sat for 30 hours of interviews with the special counsel's office. And it was McGahn who said that Trump attempted to get him to fire Mueller, but he refused, and that Trump later tried to get McGahn to deny that Trump had asked him to get rid of Mueller. These documents would deal with those accusations. The papers are also thought to include contemporaneous notes taken by McGahn's secretary.

The issue for the White House here is that these documents have already been given to the special counsel, but they've been kind of kicking around this argument that they may try to say that Mueller's office was a part of the DOJ or a part of the Justice Department, so it was internal. Obviously, the report's been released to the public now, so they may have some issues trying to make that argument.

SHAPIRO: This is pretty consistent with the White House strategy for dealing with congressional investigations more broadly, right?

RASCOE: Yeah, this is a part of what has essentially become a blockade by the administration. They are really refusing to cooperate with the House on multiple fronts, whether it's the requests for Trump's tax returns - we just heard this week from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who said he would not turn over the documents. House Judiciary Committee is also looking at having a vote on whether to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for not complying with a subpoena asking for the full, unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence.

Basically, the White House and Trump's lawyers are arguing, essentially, that Democrats are on a fishing expedition and that these requests don't serve the legislative process. They're not legitimate. Trump and Republicans like Mitch McConnell are also saying it's time to move on from the Russian investigation. The report's out, and there's nothing else to see here. I should say not all of these investigations involve the Russia probe. And Democrats' position is that Congress is a coequal branch of government, and they have broad discretion to carry out oversight.

SHAPIRO: So how does the standoff get resolved?

RASCOE: This will all likely be litigated, which would take - which can take a while. That's likely what the White House is banking on. McGahn's lawyer says that he still has certain obligations to the president that he can't disregard. And since he's getting conflicting requests from Congress and the White House, he won't take action until both branches of governments can reach some sort of agreement or accommodation. That may take some time if it happens at all.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. Thanks, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.