CAFE Brief: Fighting oversight, missed deadlines, and 2020 census

CAFE Brief: Fighting oversight, missed deadlines, and 2020 census

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In just the past few days, President Trump has declared he will fight congressional oversight, the Treasury Department missed another deadline set by the House, and the Supreme Court heard arguments related to the 2020 census. Let’s dive in!

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA – APRIL 24: U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin addresses a conference on financial technology, or fintech, at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation April 24, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia. The FDIC and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative hosted conference on “Fintech and the Future of Banking.” (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Fighting subpoenas

In an interview with The Washington Post, President Trump said he plans on fighting any subpoenas or requests for current and former White House aides to testify before congressional panels. “There is no reason to go any further, and especially in Congress where it’s very partisan,” Trump said. This includes the subpoena the House Judiciary Committee issued to White House Counsel Don McGahn, according to ABC News. In a statement, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said, “the reports, if accurate, represent one more act of obstruction.”

The White House reportedly plans to claim executive privilege to prevent McGahn’s testimony, but Chairman Nadler argues that because McGahn was interviewed by the Special Counsel, “the moment for the White House to assert some privilege to prevent this testimony from being heard has long since passed.”

  • In a Thursday morning tweet, Trump claimed: “I never told then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, even though I had the legal right to do so. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I didn’t need McGahn to do it, I could have done it myself.”

Tax returns deadline

The Treasury Department missed the April 23rd deadline set by the House Ways and Means Committee to turn over Trump’s personal and business tax returns. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin sent a letter to Chairman Richard Neal telling lawmakers that the Treasury and Justice Department needs until May 6th to determine if the “unprecedented” request is “consistent with law.” Chairman Neal has not indicated how he intends to proceed, releasing a statement saying he plans “to consult with counsel about [the] next steps.”

Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said, “Secretary Mnuchin and the White House have blatantly interfered with the I.R.S.’s obligation to provide the president’s tax returns, and action is needed to force this administration to follow the law,” according to The New York Times.

Mazars subpoena challenge

Reuters reports that the U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C. has set a hearing for May 14th in President Trump’s lawsuit against his accounting firm, Mazars USA, the House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, and Chief Investigative Counsel Peter Kenny. Trump seeks to block a subpoena for his financial statements.

Harry Litman, former U.S. Attorney and Deputy Assistant Attorney General, writes in The Washington Post that President Trump’s arguments in the lawsuit “are the polar opposite of arguments he has employed to justify his own conduct.” Specifically, Trump argues that statements made by Democrats should be considered in the case because they reveal their true motive – to score political points. But in defending the travel ban, Trump had argued that the Court should not take his own statements on the campaign trail into consideration; the Supreme Court agreed, in that instance. Litman concludes, “what a rude surprise awaits [Trump]: The separation of powers constrains his own conduct as well as that of the other branches.”

Another subpoena refusal

The Justice Department has sent a letter to the House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings informing him that Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore would not comply with a subpoena to testify about the Trump Administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Chairman Cummings said the move was part of “a massive, unprecedented, and growing pattern of obstruction.” The source of the impasse is the Justice Department’s insistence on the presence of a DOJ counsel at the deposition, a demand that Chairman Cummings has rejected. CNN reports that “Gore has Attorney General William Barr’s ‘unqualified support in this matter.’”

Demonstrators rally at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 Census. – In March 2018, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced he was going to reintroduce for the 2020 census a question on citizenship abandoned more than 60 years ago. The decision sparked an uproar among Democrats and defenders of migrants — who have come under repeated attack from an administration that has made clamping down on illegal migration a hallmark as President Donald Trump seeks re-election in 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

SCOTUS takes on census

The Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday about whether the Trump Administration can add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. As Politicoreported, initial signs from the Court’s conservative majority suggest they will allow the question to be included. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, for example, noted that other countries ask citizenship questions on the census. Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Dean of Berkeley Law School Erwin Chemerinsky argues that the lower courts were right to rule against adding the question and asks, “Has the Supreme Court become a rubber stamp for Trump?”

Taking impeachment to SCOTUS

In a series of Wednesday morning tweets (part one and part two), President Trump asserted that if the “partisan” Democrats tried to impeach him, he’d “first head to the U.S. Supreme Court” because he wasn’t charged with any crimes. Lawfare’s Managing Editor, Quinta Jurecic, points to Nixon v. U.S., a 1993 case where she writes the Supreme Court “barred the possibility that it could serve as a court of appeals for impeachment.” As Jurecic notes, however, Trump’s intention may not be to have the Supreme Court hear any such case: “confusion itself may be a strategy for a president on the brink of losing office.”

Purge investigation

The House Oversight Committee, Judiciary Committee, and the Committee on Homeland Security sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requesting documents related to President Trump’s and White House adviser Stephen Miller’s involvement in the departure of senior leaders from DHS. The chairmen of the three committees wrote that they are “concerned the President may have removed DHS officials because they refused his demands to violate federal immigration law and judicial orders.” The deadline to comply is May 9th.

Clinton’s perspective

In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Hillary Clinton addressed the Mueller report and the debate over the best way to proceed. Clinton recommends the House hold hearings to build on Mueller’s findings, not rush a decision on impeachment, and form an independent bipartisan commission to protect our elections. Finally, she calls on Dems to “move forward on multiple fronts at the same time” by also focusing on the issues that won them the midterm elections, like healthcare and infrastructure.

What else?

  • In a March 25th phone conversation recorded by actor Tom Arnold, Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, claimed he did not commit some of the crimes to which he pleaded guilty. “There is no tax evasion,” Cohen said, according to The Wall Street Journal. Cohen added that a charge related to his home equity loan was “a lie,” but admitted “they had me on campaign finance.” Cohen is set to surrender to prison on May 6th.
  • It was revealed Thursday that in 2017, North Korea insisted the U.S. pay a $2 million bill for the medical care of Otto Warmbier, an American college student in a vegetative state who died shortly after the regime released him. President Trump instructed the U.S. envoy sent to retrieve Warmbier to sign an agreement for the payment, though it’s unclear whether the bill was ever paid, according to The Guardian. In an editorial for The Washington Post, columnist Paul Waldman called the incident a “humiliation” and “part of a larger picture in which Trump has been embarrassingly solicitous toward Kim.”
  • The FBI and IRS conducted joint raids of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s home and city hall offices on Thursday, The Baltimore Sunreports. The mayor is under investigation for a book deal she made with private companies under her influence. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and members of the City Council have called on Mayor Pugh to resign.
  • The sentencing for convicted Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina is today, April 26th, in the Washington D.C. District Court before Judge Tanya Chutkan.

Stay Informed,

Adrienne Cobb & the CAFE team

We hope you’re enjoying the CAFE Brief. Email us at letters@cafe.com with your suggestions of articles and analysis of legal and political news. We look forward to your feedback as we continue to expand CAFE content.

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