The White House Is Deliberately Creating a Constitutional Crisis

Photo: Andrew Harnik (AP)

The White House on Tuesday directed former White House Counsel Don McGahn not to comply with a congressional subpoena for documents related to the various potentially criminal shenanigans described by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his report to the Justice Department.

Arguing in a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler that the documents requested “implicate significant Executive Branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege,” current White House Counsel Pat Cipollone claimed that his predecessor doesn’t have the legal right to turn over the material, and that Democrats should “direct any request for such records to the White House, the appropriate legal custodian.” Cipollone sent a similar letter to McGahn’s lawyer, instructing him to not allow his client to comply with the congressional subpoena.

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Cipollone’s letters are the latest salvo in an ongoing and escalating constitutional crisis instigated by the White House, which in the past few days has also ignored or outright rejected congressional subpoenas for Mueller-related documents from Attorney General William Barr, and for President Donald Trump’s tax forms from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. To fight the administrative stonewalling, Democrats may have to take the White House to court—a lengthy process that, regardless of the outcome, will only serve to afford Trump more time to exploit his congressional disregard in the hopes of maintaining his potentially illegal secrecy.

Nadler’s initial subpoena to McGahn stems from portions of Mueller’s report which state that during his time in the White House, President Trump had asked McGahn to orchestrate Mueller’s firing and made requests McGahn deemed such “crazy shit” that he considered resigning from his position entirely.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to the White House’s refusal to allow McGahn to comply with his subpoena, calling it “unprecedented stonewalling” and “unacceptable.”

Democrats have not, however, stated definitively how they plan to fight what has quickly become a game of chicken between their party’s faith in the constitutional process, and Trump’s flouting of their legal authority.

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About the author

Rafi Schwartz

Senior writer. When in doubt he'll have the soup.