WASHINGTON -- The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a dozen new subpoenas targeting witnesses cited in Robert Mueller's report as Democrats continue their investigation into possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.
The panel also approved a separate group of subpoenas seeking information about the Trump administration's practice of separating migrant children from their families at the border.
And House Democratic leaders set Tuesday for a full House vote to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress over their refusal to relinquish under subpoena documents related to the administration's efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
"The House will not shirk from its oversight of this administration and its malign effort to silence the voices of millions in our democracy," said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the majority leader, referring to fears that a citizenship question would dissuade immigrants from filling out census forms.
Among the prominent figures to be subpoenaed by the Democrats are Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general; Rod Rosenstein, his deputy who appointed Mueller, the former special counsel; John Kelly, the former White House chief of staff; Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser; and Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager. Democrats also authorized a subpoena for David Pecker, who as head of American Media helped kill potentially embarrassing stories about Trump over the years by paying hush money in a practice known as "catch-and-kill."
White House officials could try to intervene to block testimony from many of those subpoenaed Thursday who are current or former high-level administration officials, as they have with other witnesses.
That would only deepen the standoff between the administration and the House. On the census issue, Barr and Ross could still reach an accommodation with the House Oversight and Reform Committee, but Tuesday's vote would allow the committee to go to court to obtain the documents and make criminal referrals for Barr and Ross to the Justice Department for defying congressional subpoenas.
Despite Republican opposition, Judiciary Committee Democrats who control the committee were able to push the subpoena authorizations through along party lines -- promising to jump-start two of their highest-priority oversight investigations of Trump and his presidency. The chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., did not indicate when he would deploy the newly authorized orders.
"The committee on the judiciary has a constitutional obligation to investigate credible allegations of misconduct," Nadler said as he opened the hearing. "There is no substitute for primary evidence as the committee makes its decisions."
Trump posted about the new subpoenas Thursday morning on Twitter, urging Democrats to "go back to work" on policy issues rather than trying to take additional "bites at the apple" after the conclusion of Mueller's 22-month investigation.
Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, protested what he called a "subpoena binge" that was designed to provoke political conflicts rather than find information.
"Today's subpoena binge is an effort to change the narrative," Collins said. "It is a show of force. It is a chance for the chairman to prove to his rank and file, and the rest of the Democratic caucus, he can be tough on the Trump administration after being pushed around for six months."
The Judiciary panel is investigating whether the president obstructed justice after Mueller's report detailed several episodes of possible obstruction by Trump. Mueller said he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction and indicated in a May news conference that it was up to Congress to decide what to do with his findings.
As part of that inquiry, Mueller is scheduled to testify to Congress next week before both the Judiciary and intelligence panels for about two hours each. As the hearing approaches, Democrats have been in last-minute negotiations to figure out the format under the tight time constraints. It's likely that not every member will get to question Mueller, a point that raised ire among Republicans at the committee meeting.
Collins said the panel was "rolled" and is "having our legs cut out from under us by limiting the questioning." Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko, a junior Republican on the panel, said the decision to exclude some members from questioning is "just plain wrong."
"I have been elected just like anyone else here," she said, speculating that she'd be one of the members cut out.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference that she wishes lawmakers had more time with Mueller, but "I'm glad we have the time that we have."
In addition to Sessions and Rosenstein, the Mueller-related subpoenas target Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser; Jody Hunt, Sessions' chief of staff; Rob Porter, a former top White House aide; and Rick Dearborn, another former White House official. Flynn has already been subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee.
The immigration-related subpoenas are part of a Judiciary Committee investigation of the Trump administration's policies at the border. They specifically authorize the committee to demand testimony and documents from current and former administration officials about its so-called zero-tolerance policy at the border, the practice of separating migrant families and the standards of detention of migrants.
They are also seeking information about any talk of presidential pardons for Department of Homeland Security officials involved in carrying out the president's immigration orders, despite the possibility that some might violate the law.
Nadler said Thursday that he was pursuing a compulsory process because the Justice Department had failed to meaningfully comply with voluntary requests for the same information. The Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments, he added, had largely complied with similar requests.
"We have given the administration ample time to respond to these serious reports of egregious conduct," Nadler said. "This committee cannot sit idly by. There must be oversight and accountability."
Information for this article was contributed by Nicholas Fandos of The New York Times; and by Mary Clare Jalonick and Colleen Long of The Associated Press.
A Section on 07/12/2019
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