Don McGahn was supposed to appear before Congress on Tuesday. He was legally required to, in fact. He didn’t show.
President Trump instructed the former White House legal counsel to defy the House Judiciary Committee’s subpoena to answer questions that have risen since the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings, which place McGahn at the center of some of the most damning revelations regarding Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice. McGahn complied with the president’s request. “Mr. McGahn remains obligated to maintain the status quo and respect the President’s instruction,” his lawyer wrote in a statement.
Following the statement’s release, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said that if McGahn didn’t show, the committee would hold him in contempt of court. Other Democrats were thinking bigger. “If Don McGahn does not testify tomorrow, it will be time to begin an impeachment inquiry of @realDonaldTrump,” wrote Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who sits on the Judiciary Committee.
If Don McGahn does not testify tomorrow, it will be time to begin an impeachment inquiry of @realDonaldTrump.
— David Cicilline (@davidcicilline) May 20, 2019
Cicilline isn’t alone. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), also on the Judiciary Committee, told the Washington Post on Tuesday that he’s also on board. “As a member of the Judiciary and Oversight committees, I do think the logic of an impeachment inquiry is pretty overwhelming at this point,” he said, going on to argue that rather than impede other congressional inquiries — a fear expressed by some of the principal opponents of beginning proceedings to remove Trump from office — impeachment would “bring constitutional clarity to what some of the investigations are about.”
Raskin reportedly made the same argument to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during one of multiple House leadership meetings Monday night. Raskin was one of five members of the speaker’s leadership team to press her to begin an inquiry, according to the Post. Those in favor of an inquiry argued that beginning impeachment proceedings would allow investigators to obtain information the Trump administration has refused to turn over — such as the president’s tax returns — on the grounds that the requests are frivolous and do not pertain to an ongoing congressional matter. (On Monday, a federal judge ruled against such reasoning, upholding a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee to obtain Trump’s financial records from the accounting firm Mazars USA. Trump’s attorneys have said they will appeal.)
Pelosi ultimately maintained her opposition to opening an inquiry, but the meetings are a sign of how loud the calls for impeachment have grown as the White House continues to defy subpoenas from the committee chairs whose investigations Pelosi wants to protect. As it becomes harder and harder to argue that the president hasn’t committed impeachable offenses — from the instances of obstruction of justice laid out in the Mueller report to his subsequent efforts to stonewall the ability of Congress to conduct oversight and beyond — it becomes harder and harder to argue Congress isn’t duty-bound to begin proceedings.
“It is just as politicized a maneuver to not impeach in the face of overwhelming evidence as it is to impeach w/o cause,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted Tuesday. “Congress swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. That includes impeachment. We have a duty to preserve our institutions + uphold the rule of law.”
It is just as politicized a maneuver to not impeach in the face of overwhelming evidence as it is to impeach w/o cause.
Congress swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. That includes impeachment.
We have a duty to preserve our institutions + uphold the rule of law. https://t.co/oqguoDLUVC
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 21, 2019
Pelosi feels the opposite is true, arguing Monday night that beginning impeachment proceedings would be an action rooted in political maneuvering, a charge Trump has repeatedly leveled against Democrats. “This is not about politics, it’s about what’s best for the American people,” Pelosi said in defending her decision to hold off, according to a member present who spoke with Politico.
Pelosi has stressed that the party needs to focus on promoting its 2020 platform in order to boost the chances its nominee will defeat Trump by a resounding margin, thus making it difficult for the president to challenge the results of the election. “We have to inoculate against that, we have to be prepared for that,” she told the New York Times earlier this month of the potential that Trump will challenge the results of the election should he lose. The speaker and her colleagues opposing impeachment expressed similar concerns about 2020 on Monday, arguing that, according to Politico, the party’s “message is being drowned out by the fight over possibly impeaching Trump.”
Pelosi certainly seems resolute in her belief that impeachment is not the most prudent course of action, but she may not be able to hold off much longer if the Trump administration continues to obstruct the work of Congress. It will have plenty more opportunities to do so. On Tuesday afternoon, the Judiciary Committee issued two more subpoenas, one to former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, and one to Annie Donaldson, who served as Don McGahn’s chief of staff when he was White House counsel. It’s a safe bet that the president will do what he can to prevent both of them from appearing before Congress.
“We can focus on McGahn. We can focus on Barr. We can focus on Michael Cohen. We can call the roll,” Rep. Val B. Demings (D-FL), an impeachment advocate who sits on the Judiciary Committee, told the New York Times on Tuesday. “But the problem here is the president of the United States.”