The White House instructed former Trump aide Hope Hicks and the ex-counsel’s chief of staff not to cooperate with a congressional subpoena for documents related to their White House service.
The House Judiciary Committee last month issued a compulsory measure to one of Trump’s closest staffers and longtime aides, Hicks, and Donald McGahn’s staffer, Annie Donaldson, as part of its expansive probe into potential abuse of power, public corruption and obstruction.
Both faced a Tuesday deadline to turn over documents and have been subpoenaed to appear for testimony later in June.
In a statement, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the committee, said the two were told not to cooperate.
“As part of President [Donald] Trump’s continued obstruction of Congress, the White House has instructed both Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson not to turn over records in response to subpoenas issued by our committee last month,” Nadler said. “I note that Ms. Hicks has agreed to turn over some documents to the committee related to her time working for the Trump campaign, and I thank her for that show of good faith.”
Nadler said federal law says the documents that left the White House months ago are no longer covered by executive privilege “if they ever were.”
“The president has no lawful basis for preventing these witnesses from complying with our request,” Nadler said. “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.”
The standoff is just the latest in the escalating war between the House and the Trump administration. The lower chamber is set to vote next week on a massive contempt citation for Attorney General William Barr and McGahn for refusing to comply with subpoenas as well. The matter will then move to civil court, where Democrats hope they can convince a judge to force both men to comply with Hill probes.
The party is likely to do the same with Hicks and Donaldson should they follow the White House request and refuse to answer questions and turn over documents.
The dust-up comes as frustrated Judiciary Committee Democrats have begun calling for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to open an impeachment inquiry they believe will hasten judicial rulings in their favor. Investigators have been stuck, unable to advance their probes because of an uncooperative White House.
The Judiciary committee is particularly interested in Donaldson, who took detailed notes of McGahn’s exchanges with the president. McGahn was a central witness in some of the 10 instances of potential obstruction identified by former special counsel Robert Mueller in his report.
The panel also believes Hicks, a longtime close confidant of Trump, probably knows details on several topics they are investigating.
McGahn also faced a deadline to hand over all communications pertaining to the Mueller probe, but the White House told McGahn it would invoke executive privilege over the material. McGahn ultimately refused to turn over anything.
Donaldson appears as a critical contemporaneous narrator of some of the most worrisome and tempestuous moments inside the West Wing. She took notes directly from McGahn as he left discussions with Trump, documenting how he railed against and sought to control a criminal investigation that he felt imperiled his presidency.
Donaldson is a sought-after witness because she can bring events in the White House to life, explaining what she and McGahn were feeling or fearing when Trump took some actions. Democrats would seek her reactions to some of these moments, including when Trump announced to staff he would fire FBI director James B. Comey, and when he ordered McGahn to try to intervene and have Mueller removed for alleged conflicts of interest.
Donaldson’s daily habit of documenting conversations and meetings provided the special counsel’s office with its version of the Nixon White House tapes: a running account of the president’s actions, albeit in sentence fragments and concise descriptions.
Donaldson famously fretted in her West Wing diary “is this the beginning of the end?” when Trump insisted on firing Comey in May 2017 and on mentioning the president was not a subject of the Russia investigation in his public termination letter. She and McGahn both believed his mention of the Russia probe could be viewed as evidence he was engaged in obstruction of justice. She also described McGahn’s repeated efforts to try to protect Trump from his worst impulses and the case he was building against himself in various ways. That included when he sought to call the Justice Department himself and tried to improperly pressure Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “unrecuse” and resume control over the investigation.
Donaldson, 37, is married to a former Justice Department lawyer, and the couple has returned to Alabama. She is described by friends as proud of her work helping to implement a conservative agenda but somewhat stung by her experience in Washington.
The panel has sought to talk to Hicks as well. In an early March letter, they asked her to turn over communications she has had related to dozens of topics: They wanted any information about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s move to lie to the FBI about his contacts with Russian official Sergey Kislyak as well as his resignation. They have asked for any information she has on Trump’s contact with Comey, particularly his firing.
They also asked her about hush payments to women alleging affairs with the president during the 2016 election and the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Russians who offered dirt on Hillary Clinton. Hicks was reportedly involved in crafting a July 8, 2017 statement about that meeting that was later found inaccurate.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Rachael Bade