White House Directs Ex-Staffers to Deny Documents to House Democrats

June 4, 2019 Updated: June 4, 2019

The White House has told two former staffers not to hand over White House-related documents to the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee. Instead, it told the committee to discuss the documents request directly with the White House.

The subpoenaed 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,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in a June 4 letter to the committee chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).

Nadler disagreed, saying in a June 4 statement that the documents “left the White House months ago” and “are no longer covered by executive privilege, if they ever were.”

The documents pertain to matters investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller, who, in March, concluded a 22-month probe into Russian interference with the 2016 elections, as well as whether the Trump campaign colluded with said interference. He established the meddling took place, but didn’t establish that collusion occurred.

Attorney General William Barr determined the investigation didn’t establish grounds for charging Trump with obstructing the probe either.

Democrats, however, vowed to continue the investigation through House committees they gained control of in the 2018 midterm elections.

As part of those inquiries, Nadler subpoenaed the documents from Hope Hicks, former White House communications director, and Annie Donaldson, former chief of staff to former White House counsel Donald McGahn.

But “Ms. Talley and Ms. Hicks do not have the legal right to disclose the White House records to third parties,” Cipollone said. “I would ask that the Committee direct any request for such records to the White House, the appropriate legal custodian.”

Cipollone said such requests should wait after the committee concludes its talks with the Justice Department, which has “indicated a willingness to discuss a process” to “accommodate the Committee’s requests.”

Since the Justice Department may agree to give the committee what it needs, “Acting Chief of Staff to the President Mick Mulvaney has directed Ms. Talley and Ms. Hicks not to produce documents in response to the Committee’s May 21 subpoenas that relate in any way to the White House,” Cipollone said, adding the Justice Department “is aware of and concurs with this legal position.”

Nadler said that “Hicks has agreed to turn over some documents to the Committee related to her time working for the Trump Campaign.”

“I thank her for that show of good faith,” he said.

Many Subpoenas

Nadler previously subpoenaed Mueller probe-related documents from McGahn, too, but the White House directed McGahn on May 7 to not comply, also citing confidentiality interests and executive privilege.

Executive privilege is a right claimed by presidents to withhold information about internal executive branch deliberations from other branches of government.

Democrats have also tried to use the House’s oversight power to get to Trump’s tax filings.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on May 6 denied a request by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) for Trump’s tax returns.

Trump, his three oldest children, and the Trump Organization have sued Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp. to try to block them from responding to congressional subpoenas issued by Democrats that seek financial records not only of his sprawling real estate business, but of his family’s personal expenditures.

The subpoenas were upheld by a district court and Trump appealed to the circuit court.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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