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'Case closed' on Russia? Not for GOP senator subpoenaing Donald Trump Jr.

Donald Trump Jr. greets supporters of his father,

Donald Trump Jr. greets supporters of his father, President Donald Trump, at a Make America Great Again rally on April 27 in Green Bay, Wis. Credit: Getty Images/Darren Hauck

Burr in his saddle

Donald Trump Jr. found reasons to gloat over the conclusion of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. For one thing, the special counsel found insufficient grounds to indict him. But there's nothing like a congressional subpoena to wipe a smirk off a face.

"A person close to Trump Jr." who spoke to several news organizations all but accused a Republican senator of collusion with Donald Trump's Democratic enemies for subpoenaing the president's eldest son. "An obvious PR stunt from a so-called 'Republican' senator too cowardly to stand up to his boss Mark Warner and the rest of the resistance Democrats on the committee," that person said. 

The Republican is Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina (who votes with Trump more than 90% of the time). Warner, from Virginia, is the ranking Democrat on the panel. They have handled their panel's Russia investigation with a significant degree of bipartisan cooperation, and they have more questions for Donald Jr.

The senators didn't say what they wanted to ask him. But The New York Times reports they are particularly interested to hear his account of the June 2016 meeting with a Russian promising dirt on Hillary Clinton and his role in his father's efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. They want to compare his testimony with his previous answers to Senate investigators in 2017, and to Mueller's findings, reports said.

Trump Jr. declined to speak voluntarily to Mueller's team, and The Wall Street Journal reported he is now expected to join the new Trump family business — fighting subpoenas from Capitol Hill. Another option, a source told CNN, is to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights.

Because he's a private citizen, he can't be helped by a claim of executive privilege.

As for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's "case closed" pronouncement Monday on the Russia investigation, the response from a member of his own ranks is: Not yet.

'Constitutional crisis' at hand?

House Judiciary Committee Democrats voted along party lines Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over Mueller's complete, unredacted report and evidence.

Trump fired back by claiming executive privilege over the report.

“We are now in a constitutional crisis,” said chairman Jerry Nadler. The battle, likely headed for the courts, is over “whether we can put limits on the power of the president, any president, and the executive branch, and hold the president, any president, accountable,” Nadler said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has approached impeachment questions with caution, said Wednesday that Trump, by blocking witnesses such as former White House counsel Don McGahn and refusing to comply with document requests and subpoenas from several committees, is "becoming self-impeachable.” See Tom Brune's story for Newsday.

Contempt quandaries

The next step for the Judiciary committee's contempt move against Barr is a vote by the full House and likely approval by the Democratic majority. After that, it gets murkier.

An explainer from PBS notes it could be sent to a local U.S. attorney for prosecution, but there's a complication — all the U.S. attorneys work for Barr. In recent years, the Justice Department has declined to move on contempt charges involving either the attorney general or any executive branch official. The Democrats could also try to go directly to the courts, but whether judges would enforce a contempt order is another matter.

Theoretically, Congress could try on its own to toss an offending official in jail, but Pelosi said that's not going to happen.

“We do have a little jail down in the basement of the Capitol, but if we were arresting all of the people in the administration, we would have an overcrowded jail situation,” she said. “And I’m not for that.”

Janison: Show him the money

Optics are not Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's strong suit. Like the time he looked like a James Bond villain posing with his wife with a sheet of newly printed dollar bills.

So why would he have thought twice about speaking to Trump re-election donors at a fundraiser attended by private-industry executives whose actions are regulated by Treasury?

He also is unabashed in carrying Trump's water against Democrats who want to see Trump's tax returns. "I have determined that the Committee’s request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose," Mnuchin wrote to the head of the House Ways and Means Committee. His expertise on what constitutes a "legitimate legislative purpose" is unclear. See Dan Janison's column for Newsday.

Trump: I won by losing 

Trump gave a New York Times story that he reported $1.2 billion in financial losses to the IRS between 1985 and 1994 his ritualistic "fake news" jab. But mostly he argued that what he did to avoid taxes wasn't unusual.

"You always wanted to show losses for tax purposes … almost all real estate developers did — and often renegotiate with banks, it was sport," he tweeted, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez

What Trump didn't go on to mention was that many U.S. commercial banks, tired of getting stiffed, eventually stopped playing. That led to Trump's turn toward foreign sources, including Russians, for financing and deals, which is one of the key reasons Democrats say they want to see his tax returns.

The House Ways and Means Committee, which asked for the returns, is in a standoff with the Treasury Department. Newsday's Yancey Roy reports the New York State Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would allow Congress to get Trump’s state tax returns, potentially giving Democrats a way around the White House. The measure now goes to the Assembly.

Venez-wailer

Trump is frustrated that U.S. pressure has failed to drive out Venezuela's socialist President Nicolas Maduro and is complaining he was misled about how easy it would be to get him replaced with an opposition leader, The Washington Post reported.

Trump is coming to see the interventionist instincts of national security adviser John Bolton as at odds with the president's aversion to potential foreign quagmires. Having joked in the past that Bolton wants to get him "into a war," his concerns have grown more serious, the report said. But Bolton's job is not in jeopardy.

What else is happening:

  • North Korea fired off more test missiles.
  • On the eve of crucial trade talks in Washington, China warned that if Trump hits them with new tariffs, they will retaliate in kind.
  • Trump ordered new sanctions on Iran Wednesday, targeting its steel, aluminum, copper and iron industries.
  • The Trump administration finalized a rule Wednesday that requires drugmakers to disclose prices in television ads, hoping it will put pressure on the companies. Trump tweeted: "If drug companies are ashamed of those prices—lower them!”
  • Jerry Falwell Jr. denied a story from former Trump fixer Michael Cohen that he helped the evangelical leader prevent the disclosure of "racy photos." He also said that "no compromising or embarrassing photos" of himself existed.
  • The U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency suspended its effort to retrieve American remains from the Korean War, saying there's been no communication from North Korea since the failed Hanoi summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un. Trump had hailed Kim's earlier cooperation as a sign of success for their first summit.
  • Trump weighed in on Twitter against an obscure bill that would help a Native American tribe seeking a casino in Massachusetts. The Daily Beast found that a Trump adviser, Matt Schlapp, has been lobbying against the bill on behalf of a Rhode Island casino that doesn't want the competition.

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