House Votes to Expand Powers to Address Trump Admin Stonewalling

Published on June 11, 2019 by Athena Pallas

In an important vote, the Democratic-majority House voted completely along party lines today to expand the House’s power to address the Trump administration’s refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas. Under the new power, the House Judiciary Committee will now be able to go to a federal court to try to force the Department of Justice and administration officials to comply with congressional subpoenas. The resolution, which passed by a vote of 229 (all Democrats) to 191 (all Republicans), specifically named both Attorney General William Barr, who had failed to comply with requests for documents, and former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who has, based on instructions from the White House, refused to comply with a subpoena to appear to give testimony.

This vote comes amid a new and partial reprieve from the absolute stonewalling of congressional investigations in which the Trump administration has been engaged, stonewalling which some have alleged is yet another example of obstruction. That partial reprieve came when the Justice Department, fearing a contempt vote against both Barr and McGahn, agreed to begin turning over at least a subset of the documents requested. The reprieve due to document production, however, does not help McGahn, who still is in peril over his refusal to testify. The passage of the resolution alone, carrying with it the prospect of going to to a federal court to compel compliance, may perhaps move things forward. Democrats today before passing the resolution expanding their power to address the lack of compliance with subpoenas indicated that while they believe the expansion of their power is absolutely necessary, they hope they will not be required to use it, i.e. they hope the Trump administration will stop stonewalling and comply. According to The Hill:

The House voted Tuesday to grant new legal powers to a key committee investigating the Trump administration, handing Democrats another tool in their battle to bore deeper into Robert Mueller’s report on Russia’s election meddling and potential obstruction by President Trump. …The resolution empowers the House Judiciary Committee to go before a federal court in seeking the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) compliance with subpoenas for disputed materials and witness testimony. …But in a late-debate twist, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) announced Monday that he’s reached a deal with DOJ officials to access “Mueller’s most important files.” And leading up to the vote on Tuesday, Democratic leaders simultaneously hailed the resolution as a necessary and aggressive expansion of their constitutional oversight powers, while also suggesting they might not ever need to use it. “The timeline will, in part, depend on whether the DOJ continues to cooperate with our legitimate Article I powers of oversight and investigation,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus. “If they continue to cooperate with us, I would expect that we will not race to the courthouse.”

That last sentence from Representative Jeffries’ quote is key, making it clear that Democrats are hopeful that passing this resolution will encourage cooperation and compliance by the Trump administration. Given President Trump’s intransigence on the subject, however, and his insistence that current and former administration officials defy subpoenas both for documents and for testimony, it seems more likely than not that this new power will need to be used to try to force compliance. At least the power will now be there if/when they need it.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.