Former White House Counsel Don McGahn did not appear at a House hearing on Tuesday, prompting Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) to threaten him with contempt of Congress.
“Our subpoenas are not optional,” Nadler said. “This committee will have no choice but to enforce the subpoena against him.”
A lawyer for McGahn told the Associated Press that he would "follow the president’s directive" to skip Tuesday’s hearing. In his refusal to appear, McGahn cited a recent Justice Department legal opinion supporting McGahn's assertion that he cannot be forced to testify about certain details pertaining to the performance of his official duties.
On Tuesday, Nadler claimed that it is President Trump who has forced McGahn to refuse to appear.
“The president took it upon himself to intimidate a witness which has a legal obligation to be here today,” said Nadler, a New York Democrat. “This conduct is not remotely acceptable.”
In the hearing, Nadler said he'll hold McGahn in contempt if needed.
“Let me be clear, this committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony even if we have to go to court to secure it,” Nadler said. “We will not allow the president to prevent the American people from hearing from this witness.”
But Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee’s top Republican, said Nadler is just playing politics.
“I cannot emphasize this enough — the chairman’s track record demonstrates he does not actually want information,” Collins said. “He wants the fight, but not the truth. The closer he actually comes to obtaining information, the farther away he runs from it.”
In a photo-op symbolic gesture, Nadler and committee Democrats left an empty chair at the hearing for McGhan. But that move was not as transparently desperate as another hearing earlier this month, when House Democrats ate from a bucket of fried chicken after Attorney General William Barr turned down a request to appear.
The AP reported that some members of the House Judiciary Committee panel think House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) "should be more aggressive and launch impeachment hearings that would make it easier to get information from the administration. Such hearings would give Democrats more standing in court and could stop short of a vote to remove the president."
The issue was raised in a meeting among top Democrats Monday evening, where some members confronted Pelosi about opening up the impeachment hearings, according to three people familiar with the private conversation who requested anonymity to discuss it.
Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin made the case launching an impeachment inquiry would consolidate the Trump investigations as Democrats try to keep focus on their other work, according to the people.
Pelosi pushed back, noting that several committees are doing investigations already and they had already been successful in one court case. But the members, several of whom have spoken publicly about the need to be more aggressive with Trump, are increasingly impatient with the careful approach. Other Democrats in the meeting siding with Raskin included Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, California Rep. Ted Lieu and freshman Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse.