The House Judiciary Committee moved Tuesday to authorize subpoenas for two separate issues: an array of documents and testimony related to the administration’s immigration policies and to former and current Trump administration officials, including the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, as part of its probe into potential obstruction of justice.
The committee is planning a Thursday vote to authorize the subpoenas, which would ratchet up the Democrat-led panel’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice and examination of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. The vote would allow Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, to issue the subpoenas at his discretion.
The committee has previously requested numerous documents related to immigration matters from the administration, but Tuesday’s notice to authorize subpoenas is an escalation of those requests. It shows the committee is broadening the investigation into President Donald Trump as Democrats weigh whether to start an impeachment inquiry and comes ahead of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees next week.
Over recent months, Democratic lawmakers have grilled administration officials in congressional hearings on the “zero-tolerance” policy that led to the separation last year of migrant families who crossed the southern border illegally, and most recently, have expressed ongoing frustration over conditions at border facilities amid an influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border.
The resolution appears to address those frustrations.
It includes documents and testimony from current and former administration officials related to the “zero-tolerance” policy “and other family separation policies and practices”; custody of children and/or families; and “discussions about or offers of presidential pardons to Department of Homeland Security officials or employees.”
The resolution also names a dozen individuals to authorize subpoenas, including Kushner, former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. The list also includes David Pecker, chairman of National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., suggesting the committee is also ramping up its probe of hush-money payments made to women during the campaign alleging affairs with Trump.
Most of the officials the Judiciary Committee is eying subpoenas for received letters from the panel in March when the panel sent out 81 requests for information as part of a sweeping probe into possible obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power. Many of the officials spoke to the special counsel and were cited in the Mueller report.
The House Judiciary Committee has already issued subpoenas to several former White House officials, but they have faced resistance from the White House, which has directed those officials not to answer questions about their time in the Trump administration, a stonewalling that the House is expected to fight in court. On Monday, the committee released written responses from former deputy White House counsel Annie Donaldson, in which she said she was directed by the White House not to answer more than 200 of the panel’s questions.
“As always, I remain open to reaching a reasonable accommodation and will not issue subpoenas if the information we are seeking is voluntarily provided,” Nadler said in a statement. “We will get answers one way or the other.”
Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Thursday’s vote was Democrats’ “latest effort to relitigate the special counsel’s investigation.”
“Mr. Mueller’s team issued more than 2,800 subpoenas before concluding that no Americans conspired with Russia,” Collins said. “Even if Chairman Nadler still believes subpoenas are conversation starters, it’s hard to imagine this handful of subpoenas will do anything but reinforce the principal conclusions we’ve been able to read about for months.”
The ramped up Judiciary investigation comes as Democrats continue to debate whether the House should begin an impeachment inquiry, which the Judiciary Committee would lead. At least 80 Democrats have come out publicly for starting an inquiry, and Nadler has privately pushed Pelosi to take that step.
This latest batch of potential subpoenas includes officials who did not serve in the White House, which could lead to witnesses less bound by executive privilege claims from the Trump administration.
The authorization for immigration-related subpoenas represents a new step in the committee’s fight with the White House over the issue. The House Judiciary Committee has previously requested documents related to the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy and information about a reported exchange between Trump and then-Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.
CNN previously reported that Trump told McAleenan he would grant McAleenan a pardon if he were sent to jail for having border agents block asylum seekers from entering the US in defiance of US law. The President reportedly made the comment during a visit to the border at Calexico, California, in April. It was not clear if the comment was a joke.
The House Judiciary Committee is not the first to move forward with authorizing subpoenas related to the “zero tolerance” policy.
The House Oversight Committee voted in February to subpoena the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services for documents related to family separation at the southern border.
It’s unclear how the administration will respond to the House Judiciary Committee’s latest move.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.