White House Directs Hope Hicks, Annie Donaldson Not to Turn Over Documents
(Bloomberg) -- The White House has instructed two more former aides to President Donald Trump -- Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson -- not to provide a congressional committee with documents.
“The president has no lawful basis for preventing these witnesses from complying with our request,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement Tuesday. “We will continue to seek reasonable accommodation on these and all our discovery requests and intend to press these issues when we obtain the testimony of both Ms. Hicks and Ms. Donaldson."
Hicks, the former White House communications director, and Donaldson, who was chief of staff to former White House counsel Don McGahn, had been subpoenaed by Nadler to turn over the material by Tuesday. Hicks did provide some documents concerning her time with Trump’s presidential campaign, Nadler said.
But as with McGahn and others previously, the White House has directed Hicks and Donaldson to refuse to comply with requests for information related “in any way” to their time in the White House, saying it will get the final say.
“Those documents include White House records that remain legally protected from disclosure under longstanding constitutional principles, because they implicate significant Executive Branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege,” Pat Cipollone, the current White House counsel, said in a letter to Nadler.
Hicks’s lawyer, Robert Trout, sent Nadler a letter Tuesday saying that the decision on whether to produce some of the documents requested wasn’t hers to make, in part because “the White House has not authorized” turning them over.
That underscores that while the White House may not have the power to prevent former employees from turning over documents or testifying, the former officials can cite the White House position in what could become a lengthy legal battle over whether they must cooperate with congressional demands.
Cipollone added that discussions on providing such material should be directed to the White House and suggested that should await the outcome of the committee’s negotiations with Attorney General William Barr over obtaining “materials of the greatest interest to its investigation” from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
Despite Cipollone’s mention of negotiations with Barr, Democrats plan to hold a vote in the full House next week to hold the attorney general in contempt over his refusal to provide lawmakers with Mueller’s unredacted report and underlying materials.
In a letter to Nadler on Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said that the Justice Department wants “to explore ways it can accommodate, to the extent possible, Congress’s legitimate interests” in such material but talks can’t resume if Nadler insists “on taking the unnecessary step of holding a contempt vote.”
Hours later, Nadler wrote back blaming the Justice Department for cutting off talks and saying it should return to negotiations “without conditions.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House on June 11 also will vote to hold McGahn in contempt for refusing to turn over documents and testimony related to several incidents that Mueller probed for possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
Trump has taken a no-cooperation stance toward investigations in the Democratic-controlled House, saying they’re partisan efforts to prevent him from winning re-election next year. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” the president said in April.
The White House resistance to congressional investigations has fed demands from some Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump despite resistance from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who argues that the move would backfire politically.
Jessica Andrews, spokeswoman for Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the dispute isn’t about defying subpoenas. It’s about Democrats not going through “standard operating procedures” to obtain documents, she said.
Nadler’s subpoenas to Hicks and Donaldson sought documents that they or their lawyers might have relevant to Mueller’s now-completed investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, or to the committee’s own probe into obstruction of justice, corruption or other alleged abuses of power by Trump, his associates and aides.
Hicks, who was also subpoenaed to testify on June 19, had been one of Trump’s longest-serving and most trusted advisers. She left the White House last year and is now chief communications officer for Fox Corp.
Donaldson, as McGahn’s chief of staff, had a close-up view of how the attorney handled Trump’s demands and any alleged misconduct. Her notes are cited extensively in Mueller’s redacted report. Along with the demand for documents, she was subpoenaed to testify on June 24.
Nadler said last month that his committee was prepared to do whatever was necessary to makes McGahn comply with the panel’s requests for documents and testimony after McGahn snubbed a scheduled appearance to testify under subpoena May 21, "even if we have to go to court to secure it."
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