Trump’s Defiance Leads House Democrats to Escalate Legal Threats

(Bloomberg) -- The confrontation between House Democrats and the Trump administration intensified Thursday, with two congressional committees and the White House accusing each other of ignoring the Constitution and legal precedent.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said the Justice Department defied a subpoena for “counterintelligence and foreign intelligence” material uncovered in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Schiff set a new May 22 deadline for the Trump administration to reconsider its refusal to cooperate with investigations that involve President Donald Trump.

Separately, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Thursday accused the Trump administration of defiance that is “unprecedented and unsupported by law, history and practice.” Nadler was responding to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone’s assertion that the committee had no right to documents related to the Mueller inquiry.

Trump’s Defiance Leads House Democrats to Escalate Legal Threats

“As a threshold matter, your failure to comprehend the gravity of the special counsel’s findings is astounding and dangerous,” Nadler said of Cipollone’s argument that the committee should end its investigation into obstruction of justice, public corruption and abuses of power.

There was no immediate response from the White House to Nadler’s letter.

These dramatic exchanges bring the executive and legislative branches into a conflict that Nadler previously warned could be approaching a “constitutional crisis.” While some Democrats say further investigations are needed, others say the president has already committed offenses that merit articles of impeachment.

Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi approached the question of impeachment with caution, saying she trusts her committee chairmen to exercise their constitutional responsibility for oversight.

She laid out investigative approaches that included both negotiated agreements for material, or “friendly subpoenas,” and “not-so-friendly subpoenas” that carry consequences for noncompliance. She said Trump’s refusal to cooperate “gives reasons every day for impeachment.”

“I don’t want to impeach,” Pelosi said at a Georgetown Law School event. “But you see the point: you’re on a path, oversight, investigation” that could lead to Democrats citing impeachment as a justification in court to obtain the documents they seek.

Document Subpoena

Pelosi criticized Cipollone’s Wednesday letter that informed the Judiciary Committee that the White House would not comply with an April 18 congressional subpoena and other requests because its demands were too broad and violate principles of executive privilege.

In that letter, Cipollone also accused Nadler, a New York Democrat, of seeking “a do-over,” or duplication of Mueller’s investigation into whether there was Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Nadler wrote in his response that Mueller’s report “contains evidence that in the wake of an attack by a hostile nation against American institutions, President Trump’s response was to undermine the investigation rather than take action against the perpetrators.”

Missed Deadline

From the Intelligence Committee, Schiff issued a subpoena last week with a May 15 deadline for the department to turn over the documents, which it did not meet.

Trump’s Defiance Leads House Democrats to Escalate Legal Threats

Schiff told reporters that unless the department responds, the committee would move forward “reluctantly” next week with consideration of some type of enforcement action, which he said would be done in consultation with the general counsel of the House of Representatives.

“We hope the department will reconsider, but they are leaving us little choice but to refer legal enforcement,” he said. “The long and short of it was the deadline came and went without the production of any documents.”

Schiff says he wants the documents so the committee can learn more about all overtures from the Russian government to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Any such potentially compromising outreach by foreign operatives to Americans constitutes important and relevant information for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes, he added.

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