The White House has a message for House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler: Pass a bill — any bill — rather than trying to “replicate” Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s Russia election meddling probe.
In a letter to Nadler and a subsequent call with reporters, White House officials charged the New York Democrat with “political theater” by continuing to investigate the Russian interference campaign and possible connections to the 2016 Trump-Pence campaign, as well as whether President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice — a crime — since taking office.
“It’s a political theater where he’s already reached a preordained result,” according to a senior White House official. “I mean, does anyone doubt that Chairman Nadler already knows, or already has his own conclusions about … what happened back in 2016? The answer is of course not.”
The White House made the official available on background, meaning the person would not be named.
“He is not looking to really get to the bottom of any matter. He wants to go forward and mess things up in the future instead of doing … the American people’s work, which is, you know, how about you pass a bill?” the senior administration official said. “How about you work on things that fall within the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee? That would be something that we could all agree on.”
Asked if the White House is trying to, in the words of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “goad” House Democrats into impeaching the president, the senior official replied: “No, of course not.”
“I don’t think anyone agrees impeachment is a good idea. It’s bad for the country,” the official said. “It’s a divisive act.”
A major crux of the White House letter and message, is much of what the chairman requested in a letter sent to the White House and around 80 individuals is unlawful because it seeks grand jury, classified and other things that a release would violate federal laws and Justice Department guidelines. The senior official contended the administration will comply with all “legitimate” requests that Nadler can show are “relevant” to “some legislative purpose.”
“He hasn’t made any attempt to even do that,” the senior White House official said.
Not surprisingly, the chairman disagrees as House Democrats and the White House continue escalating a constitutional struggle that will be decided largely by the court system — and then by voters on Election Day 2020 when control of both chambers and the executive mansion will be on the line.
Nadler rejected the letter from the White House arguing that the panel’s requests for information related to potential abuse of power by the president and his associates serve no legitimate legislative purpose.
“We will subpoena whoever we have to subpoena,” the New York Democrat said, adding that individuals who do not comply will be held in contempt of Congress.
Nadler said he’s seriously considering using the power of inherent contempt to enforce such citations with large fines in addition to civil action.
Other Judiciary Democrats were also aghast at the White House letter asking they end their probe or at a minimum narrow their information requests.
“They continue to argue ridiculous things,” Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal said. “This is all just continuing ongoing obstruction of justice. They are obstructing our ability to get the information that we have legally subpoenaed [or requested].”
The administration’s presentation in federal court Tuesday over a lawsuit in which they are attempting to block the House Oversight Committee’s subpoena for Trump’s financial records from accounting firm Mazars USA showed how weak their arguments for stonewalling are, Jayapal said.
“Maybe they were driven to send that letter because of how badly the judge received their arguments,” she said.
Notably, the senior official told reporters the White House does not view the president as above the law.
“He’s not above the law, but he’s also not below the law,” the official said. “He has rights and privileges as the rest of us do. And indeed, as the president of the United States and the head of the executive branch, he has a couple more rights that you and I don’t have.”
That list includes an ability to claim executive privilege to block the release of certain documents and to prevent senior aides that are not confirmed by the Senate to testify before Congress. The senior official noted presidents of both parties have exerted those rights.
As the legal tit-for-tat continues, both parties already are making the Mueller report, which clears Trump of a criminal conspiracy with Russia but did not exonerate him on obstruction of justice, a part of their 2020 campaign messages.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.
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