As anticipated, former White House counsel Donald McGahn knuckled under to President Trump’s pressure — intimidation, if you will — and did not show up in response to a lawful subpoena issued by the House Judiciary Committee.
The Post reported: “Democrats hoped McGahn would become a star witness in their investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice, given that the former White House counsel delivered critical testimony in several instances of potential obstruction by Trump detailed in the report by special counsel Robert. S. Mueller III.” Pressure is building among House Democrats to press on with impeachment hearings. Their anger is understandable. But before embarking on such a monumental step that will not lead to Trump’s removal and could even enhance his reelection chances, Democrats should refocus their strategy.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, explained what’s at stake. “The President, in contrast, refused to be interviewed by the Special Counsel, or even to answer written questions about his attempts to obstruct the investigation.” Nadler said during a statement the hearing. “Instead, to address the allegations spelled out by Mr. McGahn and outlined in the report, President Trump relied on his preferred mode of communication: he took to Twitter to call Mr. McGahn a liar. His lawyers went on cable television to do the same. There are reports of the President and his lieutenants exerting other kinds of pressure on Mr. McGahn.”
Nadler added, “In short, 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.”
The committee chairman then did what has been long overdue — pivot from the separation-of-powers fight (certainly serious but, perhaps, not compelling to average voters) to begin to highlight for voters what is in the Mueller report. That is what Trump fears, namely that Americans will start doing what Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) did and read or otherwise learn what is in the report. A tiny sliver of the electorate will read any of the report, let alone all of it. That’s what hearings are for.
Even without Mueller and McGahn, the Democrats need to have hearings to explain what is in the report. Nadler got the ball rolling when he said:
Substantial evidence indicates that by June 17, 2017, the President knew his conduct was under investigation by a federal prosecutor who could present any evidence of federal crimes to a grand jury.
Substantial evidence indicates that the President’s attempts to remove the Special Counsel were linked to the Special Counsel’s oversight of investigations that involved the President’s conduct — and most immediately, to reports that the President was being investigated for potential obstruction of justice.
Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn’s account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President’s conduct towards the investigation.
Substantial evidence indicates that the President’s effort to have Sessions limit the scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation to future election interference was intended to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the President’s and his campaign’s conduct.
That’s it exactly. And that is just one category of conduct supporting an obstruction charge.
Take 10 days, one for each category of obstruction, and call forward panels comprised of the some of the more than 900 former prosecutors who signed a letter saying they would indict Trump if he were not protected by Justice Department guidelines barring indictment of a sitting president. Use visual aids with short excerpts of the report. Have the former prosecutors explain how Trump’s behavior in the category of the day meets the definition of obstruction.
Oddly, this goes on already — on non-Fox cable news shows — when many of these same former prosecutors show up to explain the Mueller report. Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of people don’t watch these shows. Bringing in panels of prosecutors on 10 consecutive days to explain the mound of evidence — including evidence of corrupt intent — would do more to advance public understanding and move opinion than any other tool at the House’s disposal. It would also stop Republicans from giving lame excuses such as “There’s no evidence of intent.”
Sure, get Mueller to testify. Go to court to force Trump to turn over his tax returns and to allow witnesses to testify. In the meantime, tell the story, the full accounting of the pattern of obstruction engaged in by the president. Oh, and let committee counsel do the questioning to maintain coherence and continuity. I’m sure those former prosecutors would be delighted to attend.