Yet even as Trump lied to his rallygoers’ faces, we learned that the White House counsel has ordered two top Trump advisers to defy subpoenas for testimony to the Judiciary Committee, which is considering articles of impeachment against Trump, while sharply limiting a third former adviser’s testimony to the panel.
Which raises a question: If the case against Trump’s corruption were so weak, then why would Trump and the White House have to go to such extraordinary lengths to stonewall Congress’ ability to exercise its most basic and fundamental oversight authority?
This juxtaposition will be on full display on Tuesday afternoon, when former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testifies to the Judiciary Committee. The White House has placed sharp limits on what Lewandowski can discuss, ordering him to discuss only what’s in the Mueller report, and not to discuss any private communications that go beyond this.
At the same time, the White House has also directed two others to refuse questioning: former White House secretary Rob Porter, and former Trump campaign adviser and White House deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn.
In all three cases, the White House’s arguments are absurd. The White House is claiming that Congress’ subpoena power is null and void because Dearborn and Porter have absolute immunity from testifying.
While it’s true that other administrations have held the position that close advisers have absolute immunity to congressional subpoenas, to protect presidential prerogatives, in this case the White House has exercised it again and again, as part of a strategy of absolute, maximal resistance to oversight on just about every conceivable front.
Meanwhile, the White House has claimed a more limited form of executive privilege to restrict what Lewandowski can say — even though Lewandowski didn’t actually work for the White House.
As Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told Washington Journal, it’s deeply absurd to claim Lewandowski is covered by executive privilege, given that he’s “never worked in the executive branch." Raskin added: “Where does that doctrine come from? Did the stork bring that?”
Porter, for instance, was in the middle of Trump’s efforts to get former White House counsel Donald McGahn to deny ever trying to get him to fire the special counsel. Trump directed Porter to tell McGahn to create a false record to this effect — which McGahn refused to do.
Meanwhile, Lewandowski and Dearborn were tangled up in Trump’s efforts to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to sharply restrict the special counsel’s investigation. Trump ordered Lewandowski to convey this demand to Sessions, and Lewandowsky prevailed on Dearborn to deliver it. Though that never happened, the report details that the message “definitely raised an eyebrow” for Dearborn and made him “uncomfortable."
All this, among other things, is what the White House has now restricted Porter and Dearborn from testifying about before Congress. Lewandowski, meanwhile, will be questioned by the Judiciary Committee about these and other matters in the special counsel’s report, but even here the White House has sharply restricted his testimony.
Former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade told me this could end up denying Congress important information about these affairs that never ended up in the report.
“There’s likely an underlying interview with Lewandowski that’s five pages long, but ended up with a paragraph in the report,” McQuade says, adding that Democrats would want to ask about “other conversations” between Lewandowski and Trump that weren’t in the report, but could provide “full context” to better understand these episodes, and Trump’s overall conduct.
This should build the case for impeachment
In a sense, Trump and the White House are further corrupting the process to keep his already-committed corrupt acts from gaining too much congressional and public scrutiny. When Lewandowski refuses to answer multiple questions before the Judiciary Committee, and indeed when Porter and Dearborn do not end up even appearing at all, that’s really what we’ll be witnessing in action.
All of this, of course, should theoretically build the case for impeachment, as McQuade points out:
This will strengthen the case for the Judiciary Committee to vote out articles of impeachment. But, with Democratic leaders still seemingly opposed to ever allowing a full House vote on them, it might just mean that the pressure and tension over whether that full vote will be permitted will continue to build.
Let’s step back and remember that even though the special counsel documented multiple acts of obstruction, including some undertaken with corrupt intent, Trump was immune from prosecution due to Justice Department guidelines.
Indeed, the special counsel’s report explicitly says that Congress is the only mechanism of accountability left. But before our eyes, Trump is systematically closing off that mechanism as well.
The bigger story behind what we’ll be seeing before the Judiciary Committee this afternoon, and in coming days, is that it’s not clear anybody can or will do anything about it.