- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 7, 2019

House Democrats told a federal court Wednesday their investigations of President Trump are moving “toward possible impeachment proceedings,” marking one of the boldest pro-impeachment statements from party leaders to date.

The move came in a new lawsuit filed by House lawyers asking a federal judge to order former top White House lawyer Don McGahn to provide testimony about what he saw during his time working for Mr. Trump.

Mr. McGahn was a key figure as the president debated whether to attempt to thwart special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The lawsuit says he’s “the most important witness, other than the president.”

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The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Mr. McGahn in April to testify, but he has declined to appear on the orders of the White House, which says anything he would have talked about is covered by the president’s assertions of immunity.

Raising the possibility of impeachment in the court filing is an attempt to strengthen Democrats’ hands in the looming legal arguments, with analysts saying Congress’s investigative powers are at their height if lawmakers are looking at impeachment, which is essentially a judicial proceeding,

“The Judiciary Committee is now determining whether to recommend articles of impeachment against the president based on the obstructive conduct described by the special counsel,” the House said in its new lawsuit. “But it cannot fulfill this most solemn constitutional responsibility without hearing testimony from a crucial witness to these events: former White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Washington, is linked with a similar effort Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler started last month to try to force the Justice Department to reveal secret parts of Mr. Mueller’s 448-page report.

William Burck, a lawyer for Mr. McGahn, said the former White House counsel will abide by the White House’s wishes, which were to cooperate with the special counsel but not to talk to the Judiciary Committee unless it reach an accommodation with the White House.

“People should not forget that Don McGahn is a lawyer and has an ethical obligation to protect client confidences, and as I have said before, Don does not believe he witnessed any violation of law,” Mr. Burck said. “When faced with competing demands from co-equal branches of government, Don will follow his former client’s instruction, absent a contrary decision from the federal judiciary.”

Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said filing the lawsuit effectively short-circuits attempts to reach an accommodation with the White House over Mr. McGahn’s testimony, making it less likely any information will be turned over.

“Their insistence on having Don McGahn testify publicly before the cameras further proves they are only interested in the fight and public spectacle of an investigation, but not actually in obtaining any real information,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had teased the filing of the lawsuit earlier Wednesday in a letter to fellow House Democrats, calling it the latest step in their agency to “legislate, investigate and litigate.”

Mrs. Pelosi is under increasing pressure from her troops to begin an impeachment proceeding of some sort — for most Democrats, that means an official inquiry.

She has resisted that formal step, but Wednesday’s filing argues Democrats are already in the middle of such an inquiry.

The House’s lawyers said the Judiciary Committee, whose “jurisdiction includes impeachment,” has received referral of articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump.

Two separate impeachment resolutions, one sponsored by Rep. Al Green of Texas and one by Rep. Brad Sherman of California, aren’t particularly popular. Mr. Green’s resolution has no co-sponsors, while Mr. Sherman’s has one — Mr. Green.

Another resolution suggesting an inquiry into impeachment, sponsored by Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, has just 17 co-sponsors.

But that’s enough to give the House full investigative powers as if it were in the middle of impeachment proceedings, the chamber’s lawyers argued in the new lawsuit.

Legal analysts are divided on whether a normal House investigation is enough to overcome grand jury secrecy, which is shielding some of the information from the Mueller report, or presidential assertions of immunity.

But impeachment proceedings trump issues such as grand jury secrecy, the House argues.

Democrats had hoped testimony last month by Mr. Mueller would increase public support for impeachment, but polling shows the former special counsel’s uneven testimony didn’t move the needle. Democratic voters remained fans of taking the step, but almost no other demographic group wants to see it happen.

A new high-profile hearing with Mr. McGahn could put things back on track, Democrats hope.

McGahn’s refusal to testify harms the Judiciary Committee by depriving it of a witness and information that are essential to its investigation, thereby impeding the Judiciary Committee’s ability to facilitate the House’s fulfillment of its Article I functions. These functions include the most urgent duty the House can face: determining whether to approve articles of impeachment,” the House lawyers told the court.

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