The Post reports: “The chairman of the House Oversight Committee said Monday that the panel would vote to hold Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to comply with a bipartisan subpoena for documents on a Trump administration plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.”
Meanwhile, the entire House will vote June 11 on whether hold Attorney General William P. Barr and former White House counsel Donald McGahn in contempt, following votes in the House Judiciary Committee. After the vote, the House is expected to head to court to seek enforcement and/or fines against Barr and McGahn. Barr refused to produce an unredacted version of the Mueller report, and McGahn refused to produce documents or to appear to provide testimony concerning President Trump’s obstruction of justice.
“The resolution will authorize the Judiciary Committee to pursue civil action to seek enforcement of its subpoenas in federal court. It also authorizes House Committees that have issued subpoenas as part of their oversight and investigation responsibilities to seek civil enforcement of those subpoenas when they are ignored,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) explained in a written statement. "This Administration’s systematic refusal to provide Congress with answers and cooperate with Congressional subpoenas is the biggest cover-up in American history, and Congress has a responsibility to provide oversight on behalf of the American people.”
These steps accomplish several things — in addition to reestablishing the House’s oversight powers and severe consequences for ignoring its subpoenas.
First, the move arguably serves as cover for McGahn to come forward. “Hey, the court said I had to show up,” he can tell the White House. Given his 30 hours of cooperation with the special counsel, it is distinctly possible that McGahn wants to tell his story but needs the cover of a court order.
Second, the contempt votes allow House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to demonstrate that the House is moving as expeditiously as possible to secure information that, regardless of the name of the hearings, would be necessary to establish “High Crimes & Misdemeanors.” Pelosi is right that in order to have any hope of making its case to the American people, the House has to get basic information (e.g. what is in the redacted portion of the Mueller report relating to a possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks) and inform Americans as to what the Mueller report actually says.
Third, the House can argue that Trump’s defiance of legitimate House subpoenas by invoking spurious objections and phony privileges itself constitutes impeachable conduct. Article III of Richard M. Nixon’s impeachment stated that Nixon “failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives ... and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas.” That article pointed out that “subpoenaed papers and things were deemed necessary by the Committee in order to resolve by direct evidence fundamental, factual questions relating to Presidential direction, knowledge or approval of actions demonstrated by other evidence to be substantial grounds for impeachment of the President.” Sound familiar? Should Trump order his associates to defy a court order to comply with the subpoenas, the House will have further reason to press ahead with impeachment.
And finally, if successful, the House will have a third strike (the first two delivered by separate federal courts ordering Mazars USA and Deutsche Bank/Capital One to produce financial records) against Trump in his fight to maintain secrecy. A string of losses might weaken the resolve of Republicans (if not Trump’s lawyers) to support Trump’s unjustified stonewalling. A victory in court might also encourage Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to follow the law and produce Trump’s tax returns as requested by the House Ways and Means Committee chairman.
In sum, for multiple reasons it is important for the House to conduct contempt votes, invoke the powers of the courts and obtain needed testimony and other evidence. It seems that June might be a busy month for the House Judiciary Committee.
UPDATE: And sure enough, Trump continues to invoke a bogus privilege claim, instructing former White House advisers Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson not to testify. Both are private citizens and can certainly disregard this instruction. If not, they will go on the contempt list with the others.