The White House has instructed both former adviser Hope Hicks and former White House attorney Annie Donaldson to ignore congressional subpoenas instructing them to turn over documents. White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee confirming this direction. That letter follows the recent pattern of stating that Trump could make a claim of executive privilege over these documents, but doesn’t actually assert such a claim.
According to CNN, the order expressed through Mulvaney covers everything having to do with Hick’s and Donaldson’s time at the White House, even when not involved in direct conversation with Donald Trump. As with so many recent incidents, the move represents an expansive view of executive privilege that takes in everything going on in the executive branch, even when that information does not involve the sort of high level advisers who have traditionally been afforded such protection.
In response, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler has issued a statement calling this action part of Trump’s “continued obstruction of Congress.” As Nadler states, “Federal law makes it clear that the documents we requested—documents that left the White House months ago—are no longer covered by executive privilege, if they ever were.”
The “possibly protected by privilege” has been used by Trump since taking office, but the use has expanded since Democrats took control of the House in January as a means of pushing back on congressional subpoenas. Last month the White House leveraged the same argument when ordering former White House counsel Don McGahn from obeying a subpoena to turn over documents, and a subpoena to appear before the committee.
Donald Trump is right; there is a coup underway in Washington D.C. It’s the coup being executed by the executive branch to deny the authority of both Congress and the courts. The outcome of that coup is still in doubt, but so long as Republicans in Congress fall in line behind Trump rather than the law, the odds of preserving any form of traditional checks and balances appear grim.
On the McGahn front, the House judiciary Committee is expected to vote next week to send another contempt vote to the floor of the House. It’s unclear if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would bring this up for a potential citation immediately, or if there is still a plan underway to generate a “packet” of such citations to be delivered as a group.
But even if the House should send a citation of contempt to court, it’s unclear what that would achieve, as last week the Trump White House proved that it could also ignore the judicial branch when the Justice Department declared that it could ignore a court order from a federal district court judge.
Annie Donaldson was chief of staff to former White House McGahn’s. Some of Donaldson’s notes taking during meetings between McGahn and Trump were cited in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Hicks served as communications director for the campaign and stayed on as an adviser to Trump. Among other incidents, Hicks was directly in communication with both Trump and Donald Trump Jr when Trump was authoring a false cover story for the Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives.