By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic lawmakers would gain clear authority to sue Trump administration figures including former White House Counsel Don McGahn to enforce ignored subpoenas under a measure set to come to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday.
In an escalation of wide-ranging probes of President Donald Trump and his inner circle, Democrats who control the House are expected to approve the measure authorizing House committees to file lawsuits in federal court seeking orders from judges to compel officials to cooperation with congressional inquiries.
For instance, the measure would authorise the House Judiciary Committee to seek a court order to enforce subpoenas seeking an unredacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
If the vote succeeds, some Democrats predicted that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler would move quickly to compel testimony before his panel by McGahn about the Republican president’s efforts to impede Mueller’s investigation.
McGahn, a star witness in the Mueller report, last month defied a subpoena for his testimony and related documents after the White House directed him not to cooperate with the Judiciary panel.
“He’s made it clear that he’s very committed to getting Mr. McGahn before the committee as quickly as possible,” Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat on Nadler’s panel, told reporters on Capitol Hill.
If approved, the measure also would establish a process for other panels to take similar action. Half a dozen House panels are looking into Trump’s presidency and personal holdings. The House Ways and Means Committee is seeking his tax returns. Other panels are probing his financial records.
Tuesday’s measure would also authorise the Judiciary Committee to petition a federal judge for permission to access grand jury evidence from the Mueller probe.
The vote was set to take place a day after Trump retreated from a months-long stonewalling campaign against House Democrats by allowing the Justice Department to give lawmakers more evidence from the Mueller probe.
Under the agreement, House Democrats will hold off on an earlier plan for a criminal contempt vote against Attorney General William Barr, who has resisted a subpoena for an unredacted version of the Mueller report and underlying evidence. A redacted version was released by Barr in April.
Judiciary Committee members hope to gain access to underlying material including FBI interviews and investigative notes at the Justice Department as early as Tuesday afternoon.
Trump’s defiance of House Democrats has helped ratchet up pressure on Democratic leaders to formally begin the impeachment process set out in the U.S. Constitution to remove a president from office – an inquiry that some rank-and-file Democrats see as giving legal heft to House investigations of Trump.
It was not clear what effect the agreement with the Justice Department would have on that dynamic.
The House Oversight Committee plans to hold contempt votes against Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Wednesday after they defied subpoenas related to the U.S. census.
(Reporting by David Morgan; additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Will Dunham)