WASHINGTON — The subpoena war is now on in Washington – and it promises to test the bounds of the separation of powers that are the hallmark of the U.S. Constitution.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to give committee chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) the power to subpoena Attorney General William Barr to gain access to the entire report that Robert Mueller sent to the Justice Department late last month.
While Nadler can drop that subpoena at any moment, publicly he’s hoping the mere threat of legal action will compel Barr — and others — to be forthright with the committee. "If that doesn’t work out, in a very short order, we’ll issue the subpoenas," Nadler said.
The Judiciary Committee also approved subpoenas for a coterie of Trump administration has-beens, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former adviser Steve Bannon, former communications director Hope Hicks and former White House counsel Don McGahn (along with his former deputy Ann Donaldson).
Democratic leaders maintain they’re not merely using their newly minted stature as the majority party in the House to extract political gains. They say it’s an effort to compel Barr to give lawmakers access to the full Mueller report so they can then have a fuller picture of what actually went down in the midst of the heated 2016 election.
“I do believe the subpoena will put some pressure on him — even more pressure — to be as transparent as possible,” House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings told VICE News just off the House floor. “I think if he were thinking about being not transparent before, he has to be now trying to make sure that he does not.”
Republicans aren’t buying that argument.
“It just shows you that they lost their mind when it comes to Trump.”
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told VICE News at the Capitol. “It just shows you that they lost their mind when it comes to Trump. It’s just an unreasonable request to make of the attorney general.”
As VICE News has reported, the law governing outside investigations was changed after then-independent counsel Ken Starr issued a book-length report on the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinski scandal, replete with an account of Oval Office blowjobs, cigars, and a semen-stained dress.
The law governing the reporting requirements of such outside investigations was changed soon after, and that has Republicans painting today’s Democrats as hypocrites.
“They’re being critical of what they constructed,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told VICE News while walking through the Capitol. “It’s hypocritical for them to turn around and subpoena an attorney general who is following the statute of the law.”
The powerful and usually soft-spoken committee chair then got animated.
“Now they’re asked to live by what they created and signed off on — and they’re complaining and they want to circumvent it by a subpoena process that is more political theater than it is a substance issue,” he said.
But Democrats are asking why committee chairs such as Sens. Burr and Graham (along with the likes of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his top legislative generals) are pretending lawmakers shouldn’t have a right to review the full Mueller report, and then make a determination on what the public should see.
“The strategy right now is to sort of get the report and then consider whether there are holes in it,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) told reporters at the Capitol.
That’s why subpoenas remain a key part of Democrats' strategy. They contend they aren’t looking for a fight – just for facts.
“I think in this era where terms are used such as ‘alternative facts,’ you’ve got to go for the truth – wherever that is,” Cummings said.
Cover photo: House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) holds up copies of the Starr Report during a House Judiciary Committee markup vote on a resolution to issue a subpoena to the Justice Department to receive the full Mueller report, on Capitol Hill April 3, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)