Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks at a hearing where former White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II failed to appear as part of the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation into obstruction of justice, corruption, and abuses of power by President Trump and his associates:
"More than a year ago, White House Counsel Don McGahn sat for the first of several interviews with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Over the course of those interviews, he described how the President directed him to have the Special Counsel fired. He described how the President ordered him to lie about it. He described several other obstructive incidents outlined in the Special Counsel’s report.
"The President, in contrast, refused to be interviewed by the Special Counsel, or even to answer written questions about his attempts to obstruct the investigation.
"Instead, to address the allegations spelled out by Mr. McGahn and outlined in the report, President Trump relied on his preferred mode of communication: he took to Twitter to call Mr. McGahn a liar. His lawyers went on cable television to do the same. There are reports of the President and his lieutenants exerting other kinds of pressure on Mr. McGahn.
"In short, the President has taken it upon himself to intimidate a witness who has a legal obligation to be here today. This conduct is not remotely acceptable.
"The White House asserts that Mr. McGahn does not have to appear today because he is entitled to “absolute immunity” from our subpoenas. We know this argument is wrong, of course, because the executive branch has tried this approach once before.
"In 2007, President George W. Bush attempted to invoke a similarly broad and unjustified assertion of executive privilege, and asked his former counsel, Harriet Miers, to ignore a subpoena issued by this Committee. Ms. Miers also did not appear at her scheduled hearing.
"Judge John Bates—who was appointed by President Bush—slapped down that argument fairly quickly:“[t]he Executive cannot identify a single judicial opinion that recognizes absolute immunity for senior presidential advisors in this or any other context. That simple yet critical fact bears repeating: the asserted absolute immunity claim here is entirely unsupported by the existing case law.”
"In other words, when this Committee issues a subpoena—even to a senior presidential advisor—the witness must show up. Our subpoenas are not optional. Mr. McGahn has a legal obligation to be here for his scheduled appearance. If he does not immediately correct his mistake, this Committee will have no choice but to enforce the subpoena against him.
"Mr. McGahn did not appear today because the President prevented it, just as the President has said that he would “fight all subpoenas” issued by Congress as part of his broader efforts to cover up his misconduct. This stonewalling makes it all the more important to highlight some of the incidents that Mr. McGahn is said to have witnessed. Let me recount some of them.
"We know that the President directed Mr. McGahn to prevent then Attorney General Sessions from recusing himself from overseeing the investigation into Russian’s election interference.
"On March 3, 2017, shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions did recuse himself from the Russia investigation, the President summoned Mr. McGahn to the Oval Office. According to the Mueller report, “[t]he President opened the conversation by saying, ‘I don’t have a lawyer.’”
"The President told Mr. McGahn that he wished that Roy Cohn was his attorney instead. Roy Cohn, of course, is known principally as the chief architect of the Army-McCarthy hearings that destroyed so many lives in 1954—an actual political witch hunt, not the imaginary kind the President decries. Mr. Cohn served as President Trump’s lawyer for a long time, defending the President against federal discrimination suits before he was ultimately disbarred for unethical practices in 1986.
"Mr. McGahn refused to follow blindly into unethical behavior. Mr. McGahn told the President that the DOJ ethics officials had weighed in and that Mr. Sessions would not un-recuse himself, and he advised the President not to have any contact with Mr. Sessions on the matter.
"Days later, the President did the opposite. He summoned Mr. McGahn and Mr. Sessions to Mar-a-Lago, where the President again “expressed his anger.” He said he wanted Mr. Sessions to act as his fixer. He said he wanted Mr. Sessions to undo his recusal and limit the scope of the investigation. But Mr. Sessions, too, refused the President’s orders.
"On June 17, 2017, the President took his displeasure a step further. He called Mr. McGahn at home and directed him to order Rod Rosenstein to fire Robert Mueller. “Mueller has to go,” the President barked. “Call me back when you do it.”
"Once again, Mr. McGahn refused. This time, Mr. McGahn felt the President’s behavior was so inappropriate that he said he would rather resign than trigger a constitutional crisis.
"In early 2018, after press reports described the President’s attempt to force Mr. McGahn to remove the Special Counsel on his behalf, the President repeated his pattern—he summoned Mr. McGahn to his office, and he got angry. “This story doesn’t look good. You need to correct this. You’re the White House Counsel,” President Trump told Mr. McGahn. “What about these notes?Why do you take notes,” the President said to Mr. McGahn, inquiring why Mr. McGahn had documented their conversations.
"The President then told Mr. McGahn to tell the American people something that was not true—he asked him to deny those reports publicly. Mr. McGahn again refused the President’s order. He refused the President’s order to lie on the President’s behalf.
"Six months later, the President announced Mr. McGahn would be leaving the White House.
"The Special Counsel found Mr. McGahn to be “a credible witness with no motive to lie or exaggerate given the position he held in the White House.” The Special Counsel also found the following:
- “Substantial evidence indicates that by June 17, 2017, the President knew his conduct was under investigation by a federal prosecutor who could present any evidence of federal crimes to a grand jury.”
- “Substantial evidence indicates that the President’s attempts to remove the Special Counsel were linked to the Special Counsel’s oversight of investigations that involved the President’s conduct—and most immediately, to reports that the President was being investigated for potential obstruction of justice.”
- “Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn’s account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President’s conduct towards the investigation.”
- “Substantial evidence indicates that the President's effort to have Sessions limit the scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation to future election interference was intended to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the President's and his campaign’s conduct.”
"I believe that each of these incidents, documented in detail in the Mueller report, constitutes a crime. But for the Department of Justice’s policy of refusing to indict a sitting President, I believe he would have been charged with these crimes.
"I am not alone in this belief. Over 900 former federal prosecutors, from across the political spectrum—whose job was to determine when the elements of a crime have been satisfied—agree that the President committed crimes and would have been charged if he were not the President.
"And I believe that the President’s conduct since the report was released, with respect to Mr. McGahn’s testimony and other information we have sought, has carried this pattern of obstruction well beyond the four corners of the Mueller report.
"The President has declared out loud his intention to cover up this misconduct. He told Mr. McGahn to commit crimes on his behalf. He told Mr. McGahn to lie about it. After the report came out, the President claimed that Mr. McGahn lied to the Special Counsel about what happened. Then he directed Mr. McGahn not to come here today, so that the public would not hear his testimony.
"President Trump may think he can hide behind his lawyers as he launches a series of baseless legal arguments designed to obstruct our work. He cannot think these legal arguments will prevail in court. He thinks he can slow us down and run out the clock on the American people.
"Let me be clear: this Committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it.
"We will not allow the President to prevent the American people from hearing from this witness.
"We will not allow the President to block congressional subpoenas, putting himself and his allies above the law.
"We will not allow the President to stop this investigation, and nothing in these unjustified and unjustifiable legal attacks will stop us from pressing forward with our work on behalf of the American people.
"We will hold this President accountable, one way or the other."