Former White House aide Don McGahn has been told he will be held in contempt of the US Congress after failing to appear in front of the House Judiciary Committee.
The committee’s chairman Jerrold Nadler opened a Trump-Russia hearing with an empty witness chair and a stern warning for the former White House counsel for his failure to comply with a subpoena.
Mr Nadler said that subpoenas are “not optional” and that the panel will hear from Mr McGahn “one way or another”. “This committee will have no choice but to enforce the subpoena against him,” he added.
“Our subpoenas are not optional,” Mr Nadler said. The panel will hear from Mr McGahn “one way or another,” he added.
Democrats are facing yet another attempt by President Donald Trump to stonewall their investigations. This time they’ve been blocked from hearing from Mr McGahn – a chief eyewitness to the president’s handling of the federal Russia investigation – on orders from the White House.
Representative Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, spoke scornfully of Mr Nadler’s position, calling the session a “circus” and saying the chairman preferred a public “fight over fact-finding”.
Democrats are “trying desperately to make something out of nothing”, Mr Collins said, in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in the Russia probe.
The committee voted to adjourn the hearing immediately after Mr Collins’ remarks.
A lawyer for Mr McGahn had said he would follow the president’s directive and skip the hearing, leaving the Democrats without yet another witness — and a growing debate within the party about how to respond.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi, backed by Mr Nadler, is taking a step-by-step approach to the confrontations with Mr Trump. Mr Nadler said the committee would vote to hold Mr McGahn in contempt, and take the issue to court.
“We will not allow the president to stop this investigation,” the chairman said. A contempt vote is not expected until June, as congressmen are scheduled to leave town for a week-long recess.
Democrats are encouraged by an early success on that route as a federal judge ruled against Mr Trump on Monday in a financial records dispute with Congress. Mr Trump’s team filed notice that they would appeal.
But Ms Pelosi’s strategy has not been swift enough for some members of the Judiciary panel who feel Democrats should be more aggressive and launch a formal impeachment inquiry as they try to get information from the administration. Impeachment hearings would give Democrats more standing in court and could stop short of a vote to remove the president.
The issue was raised in a meeting among top Democrats on Monday evening, where some members confronted Ms Pelosi about it.
In the hours after the discussion, Ms Pelosi and Mr Nadler met privately. Shortly afterwards, Mr Nadler said “it’s possible” when asked about impeachment hearings.
“The president’s continuing lawless conduct is making it harder and harder to rule out impeachment or any other enforcement action,” Mr Nadler said.
Mr McGahn’s refusal to testify is the latest of several moves to block Democratic investigations by Mr Trump, who has said his administration will fight “all of the subpoenas”.
The Judiciary Committee voted to hold attorney general William Barr in contempt earlier this month after he declined to provide an unredacted version of Mr Mueller’s report.
And the House intelligence committee is expected to vote on a separate “enforcement action” against the Justice Department this week after Mr Barr declined a similar request from that panel.