Question: What can Congress do to get around claims of executive privilege while pursuing dreams of impeachment? Answer, via Politico — subpoena randos. Oh sure, they’re famous randos, of course, necessary for garnering the headlines that the House Judiciary Committee craves, but legally speaking about as relevant as calling John Dean to talk about Watergate.
Which, of course, they’ve already done:
Democrats investigating Donald Trump for obstruction of justice are eyeing a new strategy to break the president’s all-out oversight blockade: calling witnesses who never worked in the White House.
Key lawmakers tell POLITICO they hope to make an end run around Trump’s executive privilege assertions by expanding their circle of testimony targets to people outside government who nonetheless had starring roles in Robert Mueller’s final report. That includes presidential confidants like former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Other Russia-related figures who never served in Trump’s administration and would make for prime congressional witnesses include Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, the former top campaign officials who both pleaded guilty and faced extensive questioning by federal prosecutors working on the Mueller probe, as well as a former attorney for Michael Flynn who is cited in the special counsel’s report in an episode involving a dangled presidential pardon.
The subpoenas for Paul Manafort and Rick Gates might have some theoretical connection to an impeachment case against Donald Trump. They worked on his campaign and are facing long years in prison for their earlier corrupt acts in dealing with Ukraine and Russia. Similarly, Michael Flynn worked in the White House — briefly, anyway, after working on the campaign and transition team. It’s theoretically possible that they could produce some sort of smoking gun against Trump.
However, that’s only a theoretical possibility. All three men faced prosecution by Robert Mueller, and none of them produced any smoking guns in exchange for leniency. Flynn, in fact, has been so cooperative that Mueller’s team has had to go to bat for him a couple of times with a federal judge to get a lenient sentence — and yet never gave Mueller anything on Trump. What exactly can the House Judiciary Committee give any of these men to unlock some supposed secret knowledge that they theoretically didn’t cough up to Mueller when it theoretically might have kept them out of prison? Immunity from future prosecutions? That’s a big help, and only in the theoretical sense.
At best, this is the House Judiciary Committee doing some belated due diligence in confirming Mueller’s work. At worst, it’s a publicity stunt by Jerrold Nadler.
As for subpoenaing Corey Lewandowski and Chris Christie, there is no “at best” scenario. It’s pure stuntwork and nothing more. Neither man worked in the White House, so they can’t speak to obstruction. No one has ever hypothesized that either man was in the Russia-collusion-hypothesis loop either. They literally have nothing to add to any impeachment case proposed by Democrats. Democrats will use them as props, targets for their soliloquies about Trump while producing nothing at all of substance.
After the John Dean debacle, Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty lamented, “Is this the best Democrats can do?” Staging stunt hearings is apparently the only thing Democrats can do.