Democrats are forcing a resolution through the House Tuesday that would make it easier to sue President Donald Trump’s administration and potential witnesses, paving the way for legal action against the president’s pushback on Congress’ subpoenas.
The House resolution would authorize lawsuits against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn for defying subpoenas pertaining to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. It also would let House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler take legal action to enforce subpoenas without a vote of the full House, as long as they have approval from a certain group of House leaders.
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Tuesday’s vote reflects a new strategy for Democrats, who have moved toward lawsuits and away from criminal contempt as they investigate the Trump administration. Criminal contempt is referred to the Justice Department, where it would certainly be rejected. In the courts, Democrats have hope liberal activist judges will side with them.
It’s unclear how quickly Democrats will act once the resolution is approved. Nadler signaled on Monday that they will hold off on suing Barr after the panel struck a deal with the Justice Department to receive some underlying materials from Mueller’s report. Nadler said the administration will provide some of Mueller’s “most important files” and all members of the committee will be able to view them.
Easing tensions with Barr, at least for now, Nadler said the panel will not vote to hold the attorney general in criminal contempt. But with Tuesday’s vote to authorize civil legal action, Democrats made clear that they are still willing to go to court if necessary to obtain Mueller’s full report and the underlying evidence.
“If the department proceeds in good faith and we are able to obtain everything that we need, then there will be no need to take further steps,” Nadler said in a statement. “If important information is held back, then we will have no choice but to enforce our subpoena in court and consider other remedies.”
A court case could come more quickly for McGahn, who has defied subpoenas for documents and testimony at the behest of the White House.
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Democrats are ramping up action related to Mueller’s probe into Russia election meddling as they try to shift public opinion on the report, released in April. Mueller wrote that there was no evidence to establishing a conspiracy between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia — so Democrats have shifted to a new tactic.
On Monday, the Judiciary panel heard testimony from John Dean, a White House counsel under Richard Nixon who helped bring down his presidency. Dean testified that Mueller has provided Congress with a “road map” for investigating Trump.
Trump, apparently watching the televised hearing, tweeted, “Can’t believe they are bringing in John Dean, the disgraced Nixon White House Counsel.” He added his oft-repeated claim, “No Collusion – No Obstruction!”
Republicans have criticized the hearings as a waste of time and have called for Democrats to move on.
“The chairman wants to talk about anything that might sway opinion against the president before the 2020 election,” Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, said at Monday’s hearing. “That’s why these proceedings are moving so slowly: Robert Mueller closed up shop a little too early in the election cycle.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article