President Trump is facing a crucial decision in coming days: whether to cooperate with the House in its fast-moving impeachment inquiry and turn over information it has requested about the Trump-Ukraine scandal, or to stonewall.
Here’s what you need to know:
The spotlight turns to the White House on Friday
The House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is one of the House committees conducting impeachment probes, intends to issue a subpoena Friday demanding a wide range of documents and communications from the White House related to the scandal.
The request comes as part of the House’s scrutiny of “the extent to which President Trump jeopardized national security by pressing Ukraine to interfere with our 2020 election and by withholding security assistance provided by Congress to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression, as well as any efforts to cover up these matters,” Chairman Elijah Cummings said in a memo to committee members.
“The White House’s flagrant disregard of multiple voluntary requests for documents — combined with stark and urgent warnings from the Inspector General about the gravity of these allegations — have left us with no choice but to issue this subpoena,” the memo reads.
Trump seems unlikely to cooperate
Trump will have to decide whether to cooperate and risk turning over more damning information or clam up. So far, the White House attitude toward congressional requests has been dismissive.
Trump’s aides have ignored document requests and subpoenas, invoked executive privilege — even going so far as to argue that executive privilege extends to informal presidential advisers who’ve never worked in the White House — and all but dared Democrats to hold them in contempt.
Trump himself Wednesday called the impeachment inquiry “the greatest hoax.” He also claimed, despite his administration’s past actions, “I always cooperate.”
“The Trump administration seems to be making it pretty clear that they intend to drag their feet in response to congressional subpoenas,” Jennifer Victor, a political science professor at George Mason University, said in an e-mail.
“He’s between a rock and a hard place,” said Allan Lichtman, a distinguished professor of history at American University. “My guess is he’ll continue to stonewall.”
Scott S. Barker, a Colorado attorney who is the author of two books on impeachment, said, “At some point, I’m assuming, they’re going to exert executive privilege in some fashion or other.”
One possibility is court action
If Trump refuses to cooperate, the House could go to court to try to force him to cooperate. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Wednesday that Democrats “have to decide whether to litigate, or how to litigate.”
Barker said Congress could have a strong argument in court to get the information, based on precedent set in 1974 in a Supreme Court case at the time of the Nixon impeachment. The court ruled that a generalized claim of presidential confidentiality was overcome by the need for information (the notorious White House tapes) in a criminal prosecution (the trial of Nixon’s attorney general John Mitchell and others).
If an impeachment proceeding is underway, “the necessity for having the information is at least equal to the seriousness of a federal prosecution, if not more so,” Barker said.
Another possibility is going straight to impeachment
Barker said the courts moved relatively swiftly in the Watergate ruling. But Democrats are wary of being drawn into a lengthy legal battle, with an election year looming ahead.
“We’re not fooling around here,” Schiff said Wednesday. “We don’t want this to drag on months and months and months, which appears to be the administration’s strategy.”
Schiff warned the administration that the House will consider a refusal to cooperate to be evidence of obstruction of justice, noting that was one of the articles of impeachment against Nixon.
“We are concerned that the White House will attempt to stonewall our investigation, much as they have stonewalled other committees in the past. It’s why the White House needs to understand any action that forces us to litigate, or have to consider litigation, will be considered further evidence of obstruction of justice, and, of course, that was an article of impeachment against Nixon,” Schiff said.
He also warned that stonewalling could be interpreted as a signal that the evidence being withheld was bad for Trump’s defense.
Or they could do both
The experts said the House could both go to court seeking to compel the release of information from the White House and move to impeach Trump.
“The mills of justice grind slowly,” Lichtman said. “There’s no guarantee this will not get involved in a protracted court battle.
“Part of Trump’s game plan clearly is to drag this out as long as possible,” he said, “My suspicion is they would probably go both routes.”
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.