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Impeachment fever spreads among House Democrats

President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House

President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi attend the 38th annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the Capitol on May 15, 2019. Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

Climbing the stonewalls

Democrats fed up with the stonewalling of their investigations by President Donald Trump's administration are turning up pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to give a green light to impeachment proceedings.

Pelosi will convene a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning to discuss strategy for the House probes. In a leadership gathering on Monday, some members of Pelosi's own leadership team argued invoking impeachment would fortify their legal hand in forcing the administration to cooperate. A growing number of progressives agree.

"There's a growing realization in the caucus that impeachment is inevitable. It's not a question of if but when," said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), a member of the leadership's whip team. Pelosi and her allies said they have not exhausted all options to hold the administration accountable, including levying fines via the contempt process.

On Tuesday, former White House counsel Don McGahn disregarded a subpoena to appear at a House Judiciary Committee hearing after Trump's team told him to stay away. 

“The president has taken it upon himself to intimidate a witness who has a legal obligation to be here today. This conduct is not remotely acceptable,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan), the judiciary chairman. He added, “Let me be clear: This committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it.”

Nadler widened the subpoena net on Tuesday, demanding documents and testimony in June from Hope Hicks, Trump's former adviser and confidant, and a former White House deputy counsel, Annie Donaldson.

A White House cave-in

Meanwhile, the Justice Department appeared early Wednesday to head off a threatened enforcement action against Attorney General William Barr by agreeing to let the House Intelligence Committee review unreleased materials from special counsel Robert Mueller's report. 

For the wider picture, see Newsday's story by Tom Brune.

Camera-shy Mueller?

Judiciary Committee Democrats and Mueller have been unable to agree on terms for him to appear because of a dispute over how much of his testimony would be public.

The Washington Post said there are conflicting versions over  whether it's Mueller himself or the Justice Department that prefers  he answer in private questions that go beyond the public contents of his Russia investigation report.

Democrats want to press the special counsel publicly about such issues as whether he thought Trump could or should be charged with obstruction if he were not the president, and on how Barr handled his report. Bloomberg News reports Mueller told the committee he doesn’t want to be dragged into a political fight.

Janison: What McGahn could tell

We know from Mueller's report that McGahn may have shielded Trump from an obstruction charge by refusing to carry out one of his most questionable orders — to get rid of the special counsel. We also know that Trump tried to get McGahn to deny what happened.

It's no wonder why House Judiciary Democrats want to interview him, and Trump's team is resisting, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

There's no comparison between the well-credentialed, disciplined McGahn and another Trump lawyer who's appeared before Congress, the fallen and now-incarcerated Michael Cohen, except one: Both have had to contend with the behavior of their main client. Cohen lied and paid the price. McGahn's story has not been shaken. 

New immigration hard-liner on way

Former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, better known lately as a conservative cable news pundit, is expected to take a top job at the Department of Homeland Security to help steer the administration's immigration policies, several reports said.

Cuccinelli is a favorite of conservative evangelicals and Trump apparently decided to look past his opposition to Trump's nomination in 2016. Cuccinelli supported Ted Cruz and disgustedly threw his credentials on the floor at the Republican convention. 

His job at DHS is still being defined but it may be not as sweeping as the "immigration czar" Trump has been considering.

Smile on Biden, frown on de Blasio

A new Quinnipiac poll showed Joe Biden with the highest favorability rating, 49% to 39%, for any candidate — Democratic or Republican — in the 2020 race.

At the bottom of the heap: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, seen favorably by only 8% and unfavorably by 45%.

Among Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters, 35% preferred Biden for the party's nomination, followed by 16% for Bernie Sanders, 13% for Elizabeth Warren, 8% for Kamala Harris and 5% for Pete Buttigieg. No other Democrat tops 3% with most, including New Yorkers de Blasio and Kirsten Gillibrand, under 1%.

IRS memo: No withholding of returns

A confidential IRS legal memo obtained by The Washington Post says tax returns must be given to Congress unless the president takes the step of asserting executive privilege, and even that's not a surefire way to withhold them. The memo contradicts the justification given by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Justice Department lawyers for denying the request from the House Ways and Means Committee.

The IRS memo also notes that executive privilege is most often invoked to protect information, such as opinions and recommendations, submitted as part of formulating policies and decisions. Trump's tax returns would not seem to fit in that category. The memo goes on to say the law “might be read to preclude a claim of executive privilege."

What else is happening:

  • Top Trump administration officials told Congress on Tuesday that recent warnings to Iran and military moves in the region discouraged attacks on American forces and were not a prelude to war. “This is about deterrence, not about war," said Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. Some lawmakers remained skeptical of the White House approach.
  • The New York State Legislature gave final  passage to a bill that would close the so-called "double jeopardy loophole" and allow state prosecutions of people who received presidential pardons after being accused of federal crimes, Newsday's Michael Gormley reports.
  • Trump told the crowd at a Pennsylvania rally Monday that Scranton-born Joe Biden turned his back on them when he "left you for another state." Biden's family moved to Delaware when he was 10 because his father got a job there. Biden retold that story in a tweet thread Tuesday and said Trump "doesn’t understand the struggles working folks go through."
  • North Korea has gotten into Trump's Biden-bashing spirit, Bloomberg News reports. The country's official KCNA news agency called the Democratic contender a "snob bereft of elementary quality as human being" and a "fool of low IQ."
  • Trump's consideration of pardons for war crimes drew criticism from retired Gen. Martin Dempsey, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us," Dempsey tweeted. Former Marine Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak said "disregard for the law undermines our national security."
  • Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson met with lawmakers for seven hours behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss his time in the administration. Since Trump dumped him, Tillerson has said the president was undisciplined and routinely issued directives that were against the law. Trump  then called Tillerson "dumb as a rock." 

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