House Dems set sights on the President’s men: Barr and McGahn

House Dems set sights on the President’s men: Barr and McGahn
Copyright 2019 CNN
The House will vote on a motion to authorize the House Judiciary Committee to go to court to enforce subpoenas against Don McGahn, and if necessary William Barr.

Democrats on Tuesday will twist the vise of accountability around President Donald Trump one notch tighter, marshaling the power of the House to compel cooperation from two of the President’s men.

The House Judiciary Committee does have a win to cheer after forcing Attorney General William Barr to make available some redacted material from the Mueller report after weeks of delays consistent with the administration’s broad bid to frustrate Democratic oversight.

The agreement staved off a formal contempt vote against Barr and will give House Speaker Nancy Pelosi new evidence to put before her restive caucus to show that her strategy of pursuing investigations over impeachment is working.

The House will instead vote on a motion to authorize the House Judiciary Committee to go to court to enforce subpoenas against McGahn, and if necessary Barr if the truce proves short-lived.

The chamber will swing into action as Democrats intensify their bid to reshape the Russia scandal’s political aftermath by alerting the public to Robert Mueller’s shocking yet complex findings.

But the resolution targeting Barr and ex-White House Counsel Don McGahn will also reflect their tough odds of ultimately inflicting real political damage on Trump.

In a striking moment of television Monday, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean — a CNN contributor — told a House committee there were parallels between the conduct of his old boss and Trump.

The appearance created a historical split screen featuring the older and younger Dean — a star witness who testified in 1973 that Richard Nixon knew about the Watergate cover-up and helped bring down the President. Yet that slice of theater and other latest developments remain incremental steps in a long, slow slog toward retribution against Trump that seems unlikely to satisfy a growing Democratic minority demanding impeachment.

Those tensions may be further stoked by the President’s fast-reacting and political defense strategy, which also relies on a supportive conservative media to insulate him with his base.

In one example of his tactics, Trump tweeted an attack against “disgraced” Dean, who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in Nixon’s White House but is now regarded by many historians as an important whistleblower.

“No Collusion – No Obstruction! Democrats just want a do-over which they’ll never get!” Trump wrote.

In what critics see as an even more sinister development, the Justice Department gave new details of the administration’s plan to investigate the investigators who initiated the FBI probe into alleged links between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

The probe will be “broad in scope and multifaceted” and will examine the conduct of US and foreign intelligence agencies, “as well as non-governmental organizations and individuals,” the department wrote in a letter to the Judiciary Committee.

Barr and Nadler both get something

The agreement between Barr and House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler offers something to both sides.

Barr, one of the most controversial and powerful figures in Trump’s Washington thanks to his handling of the Mueller report, escapes the stigma of being held in contempt of Congress.

The agreement could also give the White House a talking point to counter Democratic claims that it is engaging in a massive attempt to obstruct their investigations.

Nadler gets at least some of the redacted information he has been seeking, which he says he needs to act on the special counsel’s product.

Fights are still looming, however, over Democratic demands to see evidence pertaining to ongoing cases or grand jury material that is supposed to be kept under wraps.

“I think this is good but I don’t think this is anywhere near what we want, and that is something we have to wait time to see if they will give us more,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee.

“And if they won’t, we will go further,” Cohen told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.

Despite the deal, the House will go ahead with a vote on a resolution giving Nadler the authority to ask a federal court to enforce committee subpoenas against McGahn and Barr.

The White House has told McGahn not to comply with the demand for testimony as part of the Judiciary Committee’s obstruction of justice investigation, after invoking executive privilege.

A huge separation of powers conflict is looming following Trump’s sweeping and unprecedented claims of executive privilege, and it seems likely to trigger a fateful showdown in the courts.

The House resolution will mark a tangible step forward for the Democratic investigation strategy.

The agreement will also potentially strengthen Nadler’s hand in future disputes against the Justice Department — and will avoid, at least for now, the cost and uncertain outcome of court action.

“These documents will allow us to perform our constitutional duties and decide how to respond to the allegations laid out against the President by the special counsel,” Nadler said.

‘The clock is ticking’

The clash over the Mueller report is just one small front in the wider effort by Democrats to investigate and expose Trump’s campaign, presidency and financial life.

Pelosi, mindful that Republicans in the Senate are highly unlikely to vote to convict Trump in an impeachment trial, is wary of pushing ahead with impeachment.

She is seeking to paint a picture of corruption, malfeasance and incompetence through House investigations that Democrats can place before voters to argue Trump is not fit for a second term.

Despite Pelosi’s success so far in corralling most of her members behind her strategy — which does not currently include an impeachment inquiry — unease is simmering in her caucus.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, said Monday that Democrats should press ahead with impeachment because Mueller had listed 10 instances of possible obstruction by Trump.

He said Democrats should launch the effort in 2019 because it would be politically difficult to do so in an election year.

“The clock is ticking,” Raskin said.

But he added that Pelosi “is a political genius, and I’m not going to second-guess her political judgment.”

Fresh debate about impeachment follows an escalation of the personal feud between Pelosi and Trump.

The President reacted angrily to reports that said the speaker had told House members she would like to see him in jail rather than impeached.

“She’s a nasty, vindictive, horrible person,” the President said in an interview with Fox News last week.

Dean’s appearance Monday quickly degenerated into the typical partisan circus often seen in House hearings as Democrats sought to draw out parallels between Nixon and Trump and the President’s Republican allies blasted Dean as biased and some members even seemed intent on relitigating the Watergate scandal.

Dean, who had been called in by Democrats to offer historical perspective, maintained that the Mueller report offered a “road map” to impeachment, much as the Watergate scandal did for Nixon.

CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.