Trump battle plan: Just say no to Dems

Jonathan Lemire And Eric Tucker Associated Press
Thursday, April 25, 2019

WASHINGTON — Just say no.

As House Democrats ramp up their post-Mueller investigations into President Donald Trump, his strategy for responding is simple: Resist on every legal front. The administration is straining to hold off congressional investigators, including their efforts to obtain the president's tax returns, his business' financial records and testimony from former senior aides.

"We're fighting all the subpoenas," Trump declared on Wednesday. And if House members go all the way and try to impeach him, he said he would "head to the Supreme Court" for help.

Portraying himself as unjustly persecuted in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, Trump said his White House would refuse to cooperate with further congressional investigation.

"I thought after two years we'd be finished with it. No, now the House goes and starts subpoenaing," Trump told reporters on the White House lawn, asserting the probes have been commissioned solely for political advantage.

"Look, these aren't, like, impartial people," he said. "The Democrats are trying to win 2020."

"The only way they can luck out is by constantly going after me on nonsense," Trump said. "But they should be really focused on legislation."

Washington has spent a week sifting through the aftermath of Mueller's report, which did not find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to help him win the 2016 election but reached no conclusion on whether he obstructed justice. Attorney General William Barr later said the president was not guilty of obstruction.

Trump has railed against Mueller’s report, even resorting to public profanity in dismissing it, but has also embraced it, claiming exoneration and painting any other attempt as partisan overreach.

“You want to see the nonpartisan, definitive, conclusive taxpayer-funded lengthy unobstructed, unimpeded, un-interfered with investigation? You just saw it and it’s called the Mueller report,” senior counselor Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday. But the Democrats, while debating whether to proceed down a path toward impeachment, have ratcheted up their own probes. The White House, in turn, has moved to stop them, laying the groundwork for what could be months of legal and political battles.

“We’re going to evaluate each request as they come, but we are not going to allow for congressional harassment,” said Trump attorney Jay Sekulow. “And in that context, when appropriate, we will respond appropriately — which will include litigation when necessary.”

Over just the past few days, the White House has thrown up a series of stop signs.

—The Trump Organization filed a lawsuit against the chairman of the House Oversight Committee to stop his efforts to obtain the company’s financial records.

—Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ignored Tuesday’s House deadline to turn over the president’s tax returns, instead asserting that he will decide next month.

—The White House instructed its former personnel security director, Carl Kline, not to testify before Congress over how some West Wing aides, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, obtained security clearances, leading the House to hold Kline in contempt.

—The White House asserted it will fight any congressional subpoena, including one for former White House Counsel Don McGahn, an important figure in the Mueller investigation, to appear and provide documents.

“We’re going to fight everything; we already gave them every document and witness we have,” said Rudy Giuliani, another of the president’s attorneys. “Why do we have to do it again?”

Michael Caputo, who served as a communications adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, met with the president, first lady, and several White House staffers Wednesday in the Oval Office. Caputo said it was clear the president had no intention of cooperating with Democrats and had rejected the advice of people who say he should be quiet and move on.

“He’s not the least bit intimidated of all these threats of impeachment. He’s not the least bit worried about giving it as well as he’s gotten,” Caputo said. “And I think the Democrats and the media ought to strap in because it’s going to be a hell of a ride.”

The administration has considered asserting executive privilege over witnesses, even some who previously cooperated with Mueller. While the White House probably won’t have legal standing to block the subpoena issued to McGahn, the administration could try to assert executive privilege over particular testimony it believes would infringe on private presidential conversations, according to Washington defense lawyer Andrew Herman, who represents clients in congressional investigations.