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White House orders Don McGahn to defy House subpoena

Then-White House counsel Don McGahn on Sept. 4,

Then-White House counsel Don McGahn on Sept. 4, 2018. Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin

WASHINGTON — The White House ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn on Tuesday not to comply with a congressional subpoena for documents, escalating its fight with House Democrats over their post-Mueller report investigations.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) that cited “executive privilege” in part for its direction to McGahn “not to produce” any records related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The rejection of the McGahn records request came a day before Judiciary Democrats are expected to intensify the battle Wednesday with a vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to give them Mueller’s unredacted report and documents.

Nadler’s staff negotiated Tuesday with the White House on a resolution to the standoff, but at the end of the day Democrats appeared likely to move ahead with their motion to start a process that would result ultimately in a vote on a contempt charge by the full House.

Republicans and Democrats, meanwhile, skirmished over what the Mueller report requires Congress to do nearly three weeks after Barr made public the redacted version and a week after the attorney general testified in the Senate but skipped his date with the House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that Mueller’s conclusions — no collusion and no obstruction charges filed — means the “case is closed.” He urged Democrats to drop their probes regarding Trump and take up bills that matter to the American people.

“I can understand why our friends on the other side are disappointed. They’ve been trying to look for some way to overturn the 2016 election for two long years,” McConnell said. “The Mueller report has been filed. … My view is it's time to move on.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaking in Manhattan, replied to reports of McConnell’s statements: “No, I don't think so.”

She said committees will not stop probing because “if we were not to do these investigations we would be delinquent in our duties.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said McConnell is sending proposals to crack down on Russian interference in U.S. elections to a “graveyard” that ignores Mueller’s report and its findings that Russians meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

“McConnell is so afraid of this report that he doesn’t even want to do what needs to be done to stop Russian interference,” Schumer said, and McConnell’s turning election security into "a partisan issue shows you the pressure he feels from the administration.”

House Democrats likely will fight the White House move to block the documents and the testimony by McGahn — who as a key witness on the 10 episodes examined for obstruction of justice is cited more than any other Trump official in the Mueller report.

McGahn told the special counsel’s office that Trump twice called on him to fire Mueller, and later asked McGahn to dispute news reports about the attempts to fire Mueller. The report said McGahn told the president the reports were accurate.

House Democrats insist the inclusion of McGahn’s testimony in the Mueller report makes it a part of the public record, and no longer protected by executive privilege.

But Cipollone argued that McGahn’s records were “legally protected from disclosure” in part because of the president’s right to assert executive privilege. The White House said it made clear that it retained control over the records it provided to McGahn for his interviews with Mueller’s team.

McGahn’s personal attorney, William Burck, wrote lawmakers Tuesday that McGahn would “maintain the status quo” as he awaited the outcome of the fight between the committee and the White House.

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