WASHINGTON — A divided House Democratic caucus will meet Wednesday to talk about impeachment, a day after former White House counsel Don McGahn, on President Donald Trump’s orders, skipped a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is expected to push back on the growing pressure from some Democrats to open an impeachment inquiry to counter White House stonewalling and to urge the caucus to stay the course with a methodical path of probes, subpoenas and lawsuits.
“When you have a president who is engaging in a cover-up and an effort to completely forget the rule of law, to undermine Congress’ ability to do investigations, then it’s important to communicate a very strong message to the administration,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.).
“And opening a formal inquiry is a good way to communicate,” said Cicilline, a member of the Judiciary Committee, speaking with reporters.
Trump, who has said he will fight “all of the subpoenas” from the House, is following a strategy that seeks to protect the power of the presidency, according to Attorney General William Barr.
“If you destroy the presidency and make it an errand boy for Congress, we’re going to be a much weaker and more divided nation,” Barr told The Wall Street Journal.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), the Judiciary Committee chairman, bristled at McGahn’s absence at Tuesday’s hearing, and upped the ante later in the House-White House clash by issuing two more subpoenas for former White House officials.
McGahn, a key figure in the Mueller report, informed Nadler on Monday through his lawyer that he would not appear despite the committee’s subpoena because of “the duties he, as an attorney, owes his former client.”
“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,” Nadler said as he faced the empty chair reserved for McGahn. “Our subpoenas are not optional.”
Nadler, who read parts of the Mueller report reflecting McGahn’s disclosures of Trump's potential acts of obstruction, added, “Let me be clear: this committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it.”
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the committee’s top Republican, said, “He left out something. That is the conclusions. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction charges. There is nothing here.”
Nadler issued subpoenas later Tuesday for Hope Hicks, a former White House communications director, and Annie Donaldson, McGahn’s former chief of staff, to testify about McGahn’s concerns that Trump was obstructing the Mueller investigation.
“As I said earlier today, the Judiciary Committee’s investigation into obstruction of justice, public corruption and abuse of power by President Trump and his administration will continue,” Nadler said in a statement.
Nadler and a few other committee Democrats, including Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Cicilline, met with Pelosi, saying it was time to start impeachment hearings, according to news reports.
Others urging those hearings include Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Brooklyn), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas).
Pelosi’s top lieutenants downplayed growing impeachment pressure.
“I think the majority of Democrats continue to believe that we need to continue to pursue the avenue that we've been on in trying to elicit information, testimony, review the Mueller report, review other items that have gone up,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), citing the court victory Monday ordering a Trump accounting firm to turn over records.
“If it leads to a conclusion that we need to proceed further through other avenues, including impeachment,” he added, “so be it.”