(Bloomberg) -- Former White House Counsel Don McGahn defied a congressional subpoena Tuesday by declining to testify before the House Judiciary Committee at the direction of the White House.
The hearing room chair reserved for McGahn sat empty behind microphones, as committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York opened the scheduled hearing.
“This conduct is not remotely acceptable,” Nadler said, referring to the White House’s instruction to McGahn not to appear. “Let me be clear: This committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it."
“We will hold this president accountable -- one way or the other,” Nadler said.
The New York Democrat had warned in a letter to McGahn late Monday night, “The committee has made clear that you risk serious consequences if you do not appear tomorrow.” The committee could hold McGahn in contempt.
Democrats have said they need to hear from McGahn to learn more about several incidents that Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigated to determine whether President Donald Trump had tried to obstruct justice. The direction to McGahn from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone to ignore the subpoena angered Democrats, leading several to issue calls to begin impeachment proceedings.
“Congress has a responsibility to conduct oversight and get the information we need to deliver the truth to the American public regarding Russia’s interference in our elections,” Democrat Mark Pocan, who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Tuesday in a statement. “Stonewalling Congress on witnesses and the unredacted Mueller report only enhances the president’s appearance of guilt, and as a result, he has pushed Congress to a point where we must start an impeachment inquiry.”
House Democrats have scheduled a meeting Wednesday morning for party members to get an update on oversight and investigations, according to a House Democratic aide.
Previously, McGahn had defied a Judiciary Committee subpoena for documents after the White House invoked executive privilege, missing a May 7 deadline to comply with the records request.
As a private citizen, McGahn could have chosen to appear voluntarily at Tuesday’s hearing.
Republicans said the Democrats were simply grandstanding with Tuesday’s hearing.
“The special counsel closed up shop without giving Democrats anything to deliver to their base," Doug Collins, the top Republican on the panel, said. “Now Democrats are trying desperately to make something out of nothing, which is why the chairman haphazardly subpoenaed today’s witness. That move, though, has actually ensured the witness cannot testify.”
Trump has said that his administration will fight “all the subpoenas.”
On Monday, Judiciary Committee member David Cicilline of Rhode Island -- who leads the House Democratic Caucus’s political messaging arm -- said in an interview that if McGahn didn’t show up, Democrats should begin an impeachment inquiry against Trump.
"If Don McGahn does not appear tomorrow, this will become the third instance the White House has impeded and obstructed our ability to do our work," said Cicilline. He noted that, along with McGahn’s previous refusal to produce documents, Attorney General William Barr also defied a subpoena to turn over an unredacted version of Mueller’s Russia report.
The Judiciary Committee later voted to hold Barr in contempt, but hasn’t yet advanced that resolution to the floor for a full House vote.
In a sign of restlessness even among other leaders of her caucus, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was pressed Monday during a closed-door meeting to begin impeachment proceedings, according to people familiar with the matter. Those talks began after she had complained that the legal battles with the administration were subsuming the party’s legislative agenda.
She received a similar request during a separate Democratic Steering Committee meeting. Yet she continued to remain opposed to moving forward, according to the people, who were granted anonymity to describe internal party discussions.
Asked by reporters Tuesday if she is feeling increased pressure to pursue impeachment, Pelosi said, “No.”
“We have no division,” she said.
--With assistance from Erik Wasson.
To contact the reporter on this story: Billy House in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at email@example.com, Larry Liebert
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.