House plans vote authorizing wide-ranging lawsuits to gather evidence about President Trump

Bart Jansen

WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives will vote on a plan Tuesday to make it easier for committees to go to court to enforce demands for documents and testimony in their investigations of President Donald Trump's administration, beginning with those seeking documents from Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn.

The resolution could also hasten legal challenges from one committee seeking information about the administration's addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census and from another that has subpoenaed Trump's tax returns.

The Trump administration has widely refused to comply with demands from House Democrats that it produce documents and witnesses in the face of congressional subpoenas. Some Democrats said authorizing new lawsuits was the only way for the chamber to enforce those requests and gather evidence for their investigations of Trump, his administration and his private business.

“We will not allow this president and his administration to turn a blind eye to the rule of law," said Rules Committee Chairman James McGovern, D-Mass., who drafted the resolution. "The Trump administration is waging an unprecedented campaign of stonewalling and obstruction on issues the American people care about, including its attack on health care, its inhumane family separation policy and the countless egregious examples laid out in the Mueller report. Enough is enough."

House committees traditionally asked the full House to authorize litigation to enforce subpoenas, after finding the subjects who defied them in contempt, as the Judiciary Committee has done with Barr. The Oversight Committee plans to vote Wednesday to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt over the Census documents.

The change in the resolution Tuesday would allow the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, a five-member panel of House leaders now controlled by Democrats, to authorize litigation to enforce committee subpoenas.

The House already is locked in a pair of court fights with Trump over subpoenas for his financial records. Two federal judges rejected Trump's efforts to block the subpoenas, and the president has appealed, arguing that "Congress is simply not allowed to conduct law-enforcement investigations of the president."

Republicans have argued that Democrats are filing lawsuits too quickly, which could hurt the House's chances of winning in court by making it look like negotiations for documents hadn't been exhausted. Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Rules Committee, said that the rush toward litigation was unprecedented before the full House had found either Barr or McGahn in contempt.

"I don’t understand the majority’s haste here," Cole said. "Without exhausting all other options – negotiation, discussion, and turning to a vote on contempt as a last result – the majority may be placing the House in a position that causes long-term damage to the institution."

The Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Barr for Mueller's entire report about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Barr blacked out portions of the report dealing with four areas, including grand-jury information and information about pending cases.

The Justice Department reached a compromise Monday to provide what Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-New York, described as "key evidence" from the report and millions of pages of underlying evidence. But Nadler said a potential lawsuit authorized Tuesday would help the committee seek other documents that weren't covered by the compromise, particularly dealing with McGahn.

McGahn cooperated with Mueller's team and appeared in several key portions of the report dealing with Trump's potential obstruction of justice during the investigation. But McGahn defied his subpoena for documents and testimony because the White House argued that top presidential advisers can't be compelled to testify.

Trump has threatened to defy subpoenas because he contends the Mueller investigation is closed and Democrats are trying to use the report for partisan attacks.

More about Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller's report:

House investigations of President Trump hit a wall of delay; demands for records, witnesses are mostly on hold

'Slow-motion constitutional car crash': Trump, Congress battle over investigations with no end in sight

'We're fighting all the subpoenas.' Congress and Trump prepare to battle over wide-ranging probes

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: House plans vote authorizing wide-ranging lawsuits to gather evidence about President Trump