House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the White House's effort to stop or limit former staff from speaking fully before Congress amounted to a "shocking and dangerous" use of executive privilege and immunity hours before his panel's first official impeachment hearing Tuesday.
"This is a shocking and dangerous assertion of executive privilege and absolute immunity," Nadler said in a statement Monday night. "The President would have us believe that he can willfully engage in criminal activity and prevent witnesses from testifying before Congress — even if they did not actually work for him or his administration."
"If he were to prevail in this cover-up while the Judiciary Committee is considering whether to recommend articles of impeachment, he would upend the separation of powers as envisioned by our founders," he added.
Nadler's statement came after the White House ordered two former top aides to defy congressional subpoenas and sought to limit testimony from President Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.
On Monday, White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote to Nadler that "constitutional immunity" protects former aides Rob Porter, the ex-White House staff secretary, and Rick Dearborn, who served as deputy chief of staff, from having to testify. The White House was backed up by the Justice Department on the matter. Regarding Lewandowski, who is expected to appear before the committee, the White House invoked executive privilege over discussions he had with Trump and other top White House staff that was not included in special counsel Robert Mueller's report.
The moves were widely expected and echoed earlier attempts to curtail or prevent former staffers from testifying before Congress, such as former White House counsel Donald McGahn. Porter, Dearborn and Lewandowski were featured prominently in Mueller's report.
The three were subpoenaed to appear before the committee for its hearing titled "Presidential Obstruction of Justice and Abuse of Power," which will begin at 1 p.m.
Lewandowski, who is considering a run for Senate in New Hampshire, tweeted ahead of the hearing Tuesday morning: "Excited about the opportunity to remind the American people today there was no collusion no obstruction."
"There were lots of angry Democrats who tried to take down a duly elected President," he added. "Tune in. #Senate2020."