The House judiciary committee has escalated its stand-off with the White House by sending a new round of subpoenas to former White House officials — including Hope Hicks — as Democrats weigh their next steps in taking on President Donald Trump.
Jerrold Nadler, the committee’s Democratic chair, said on Tuesday that subpoenas had been sent to Ms Hicks, a former White House communications director and one of Mr Trump’s earliest campaign aides, and Annie Donaldson, former chief of staff to Don McGahn, the former White House counsel.
Mr McGahn earlier incurred the committee’s wrath by defying a congressional subpoena and refusing to appear before the House judiciary committee.
Democrats had hoped Mr McGahn would serve as a key witness in their efforts to determine whether Mr Trump had obstructed justice during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The White House, however, instructed Mr McGahn — who has since left the Trump administration to return to private practice at the law firm Jones Day — not to testify, and on Monday released a legal opinion from the US Department of Justice saying that Congress could not compel Mr McGahn to do so.
Mr McGahn is the second current or former administration official to flaunt a congressional subpoena in less than a month.
William Barr, the US attorney-general, declined to appear before the House judiciary committee earlier in May, while also refusing a demand by Democratic lawmakers to hand over a more complete version of Mr Mueller’s report from his investigation. The committee later voted to hold Mr Barr in contempt of Congress.
On Tuesday, Mr Nadler vowed to take similar measures to hold Mr McGahn accountable.
“We will not allow the president to block congressional subpoenas, putting himself and his allies above the law,” Mr Nadler said. “We will not allow the president to stop this investigation.”
Mr McGahn’s no-show at the House hearing on Tuesday has intensified the debate within the Democratic caucus over whether to launch impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump.
The debate over impeachment has divided the House’s progressive and moderate members. Some Democrats — including several members of the House judiciary committee — have argued that impeachment proceedings could be necessary to help obtain the material and witnesses they need to continue with their investigations.
Yet others, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have warned that impeachment proceedings could imperil the caucus’s unity and detract from Democrats’ 2020 messaging on policy issues such as healthcare.
Democrats scored an initial court victory on Monday in their efforts to investigate Mr Trump’s political and personal dealings. A US judge refused to block the House oversight committee from subpoenaing Mr Trump’s accounting firm in an effort to secure the president’s financial records.
Amit Mehta, a US federal district judge, said he did not see any reason why House investigators should not be allowed to continue their oversight of the executive branch to ensure that ethics and disclosure laws were being properly followed.
Mr Trump shot back against the ruling, calling it “totally the wrong decision” and labelling Mr Mehta “an Obama-appointed judge”. The president’s lawyers lodged an appeal of that decision on Tuesday.
Separately, Democrats on the House ways and means committee are also fighting to subpoena Mr Trump’s tax returns, after Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, declined to provide the requested documents.