House set to empower committees to sue Trump over subpoenas

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Jerry Nadler

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said that he intends to go to court as soon as possible to enforce his panel’s subpoenas for Robert Mueller’s evidence. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The House is set to take its most aggressive step yet to haul special counsel Robert Mueller’s witnesses to Capitol Hill, even as Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that House Democrats were “not even close” to backing an impeachment inquiry.

The House on Tuesday is expected to advance a measure authorizing committee chairs to sue the Trump administration in federal court to enforce a series of subpoenas, including for Trump’s tax returns, as well as for access to special counsel Robert Mueller’s evidence and testimony from crucial witnesses who worked in the White House.

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And in remarks at a policy conference on Tuesday, Pelosi also offered her most detailed rebuttal to pro-impeachment lawmakers, questioning whether opening such an inquiry would strengthen the House’s hand in the looming legal battles against the Trump administration to produce Mueller’s witnesses and documents to Congress.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said on Tuesday that he intends to go to court as soon as possible to enforce his panel’s subpoenas for Mueller’s evidence and access to central witnesses in his probe into whether Trump obstructed justice. He acknowledged, though, that the timing of any court action will be determined by House leaders and the House counsel’s office.

Nadler, who remains at odds with Pelosi over whether to open an impeachment inquiry, indicated on Monday that he was willing to delay legal action against Attorney General William Barr over his refusal to turn over Mueller’s unredacted report and underlying evidence, citing a deal with the Justice Department to begin giving lawmakers access to Mueller’s files.

“If they continue to cooperate with us, I expect we will not race to the courthouse,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), a Judiciary Committee member.

But Nadler is likely to move more quickly to enforce the committee’s subpoena for former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who has acquiesced to the White House’s directive that he defy the subpoena, which seeks documents and public testimony.

Nadler has also indicated that he intends to go to court to seek a judge’s permission to access Mueller’s grand jury evidence, which is legally prohibited from being shared with Congress without a waiver from a judge.

Republicans questioned the Democratic decision to empower committees to take legal action, noting that the measure gives veto power on any such decision to an obscure committee of senior lawmakers, including Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip James Clyburn. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) are also on the Democrat-controlled panel.

“What they are doing now is taking power away from Congress and putting it into a group of five people, with three Democrats and two Republicans,” McCarthy said. “Does the power of Congress really lie in just three people? … Because that’s in essence what happens today.”

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