White House Fires Back at Documents Demand by Democrats

WASHINGTON (CN) – Throwing more fuel into a blazing fight between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration, the White House on Wednesday pushed back against a sweeping documents request that a panel sent in March.

The request from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler was part of 81 letters the committee sent out in March as part of a massive oversight investigation into President Donald Trump, his administration and his associates. Among other documents, Nadler requested from the White House information about Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey and contacts between Russia and Trump’s businesses or campaign.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., gavels in a hearing on the Mueller report without witness Attorney General William Barr, who refused to appear May 2, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In a 12-page letter sent to Nadler on Wednesday, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone called the request overbroad and an attempt to repeat the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Saying the sweeping request is not “a legitimate exercise of oversight authority,” Cipollone told Nadler he should either abandon the investigation or severely curtail its scope.

“Our responsibility to the constitutionally based prerogatives of the executive branch, our obligation to protect those prerogatives for all future occupants of the office of the presidency and our respect for the rule of law require that we resist the overbroad demands in the committee’s letter,” the letter states.

While Trump has not yet claimed executive privilege on any of the documents Nadler sought in the letter, a senior administration official said Wednesday that Trump could do so in the future. 

“The fact of the matter is that the White House is not going to cooperate with this type of presidential harassment,” the senior administration official said.

The letter is the latest in a line of White House actions standing against congressional investigations and comes a week after the White House claimed executive privilege over the unredacted version of Mueller’s report. The White House invoked privilege on the report just before the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt for not turning the report over to Congress in response to a committee subpoena.

The Trump administration has also spurned other congressional investigations and Trump has said the White House will fight all subpoenas congressional Democrats might issue. 

At a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning, a panel of legal experts cast doubt on some claims the Trump administration has made in it fights against the brewing congressional investigations.

Georgia State University College of Law professor Neil Kinkopf said the Trump administration has been “contemptuous” in its dealings with Congress and struck back at the administration’s contention that Congress’ requests are invalid in part because they are politically motivated.

“The fact that Congress might have political motives in addition to legislative motives not only doesn’t vitiate, it is not surprising,” Kinkopf said. “It is the premise of the Constitution that both Congress and the president will have political motives when they act.”

As for the committee’s specific fight over the Mueller report, Yeshiva University law professor Kate Shaw was optimistic about some of the committee’s requests because they go after information about potential misconduct in the executive branch, which she said “erodes” claims of executive privilege.

George Washington University School of Law professor Jonathan Turley said he believes lawmakers will ultimately succeed in getting access to documents and bringing some witnesses before the committee on the Mueller report, but cautioned the panel that the coming battles will not be easy.

He said courts are not likely to be favorable to the committee’s request to hear from former White House counsel Don McGahn, or to look kindly on the relatively short time the committee gave Barr to negotiate over the subpoena for the full report.

Turley told lawmakers they should be cautious about which fights with the White House they take to the courts, because they could spur rulings the committee will come to regret.

“Privilege fights are like invading Russia in winter. If you get into them it’s not going to be fast and you’re not going to get a warm reception in the courts,” Turley said. “You have to be very careful with how you launch that campaign.”

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