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New White House stonewalling intensifies impeachment push

The former White House counsel may be able to shed light on Trump alleged crimes, but Trump is silencing him. The result: talk of impeachment is getting louder.
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If former White House Counsel Don McGahn honors a congressional subpoena, he'll appear before the House Judiciary Committee today. In theory, the Republican lawyer has some extremely important information to share.

In fact, McGahn is a witness of particular significance: few figures play as important a role in the Mueller report as the former White House counsel. As we've discussed -- and as Donald Trump has acknowledged -- the Republican lawyer spoke with investigators for dozens of hours, and in the redacted version of Mueller's report, the former White House counsel is cited more than 150 times.

In some of the episodes in which Trump allegedly obstructed justice, the claims of suspected criminal misconduct are based heavily on what McGahn told investigators.

Indeed, as the special counsel's findings made clear, the former White House counsel very nearly resigned because the president directed him to "do crazy s**t," including an incident in which, according to McGahn, Trump pressed the lawyer to push the Justice Department to derail the investigation by getting rid of Mueller and creating a false document to cover that up.

McGahn is not, however, expected to show up on Capitol Hill today.

President Donald Trump has directed former White House counsel Don McGahn to defy a congressional subpoena and not testify Tuesday, current White House counsel Pat Cipollone said Monday.In a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Cipollone wrote that the Justice Department "has advised me that Mr. McGahn is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters occurring during his service as a senior adviser to the President."

McGahn's lawyer soon after informed the committee that his client would not testify.

The result is a rather extraordinary set of circumstances: the former White House counsel may be in a position to shed light on the president's alleged crimes, but the president has ordered him not to answer any questions, even if that means defying a lawful subpoena.

The next question, of course, is what's likely to happen next.

We can expect a few fairly obvious developments. McGahn, for example, is likely to be held in contempt of Congress for ignoring a subpoena. It's also a safe bet that the dispute will soon move to the courts.

And while it may take a while for the matter to be adjudicated -- the delay is almost certainly a key part of the White House's strategy -- Team Trump's stonewalling will probably fall short eventually.

But there's another angle to this that's worth watching: as NBC News reported, the president's latest efforts have pushed some congressional Democrats to the breaking point on impeachment.

Several Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee pressed Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Monday evening to move forward with an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump as one of his former White House aides planned to defy a congressional subpoena Tuesday.During a weekly Democratic leadership meeting in Pelosi's office on Capitol Hill, Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Joe Neguse, D-Colo., all argued for launching an impeachment inquiry if former White House counsel Don McGahn failed to testify. [...]Impeachment was also raised at a separate weekly meeting Monday evening among Democratic leaders and committee chairs, including by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., another member of the Judiciary Committee.

It's worth emphasizing that for some House Democrats, the point of initiating impeachment proceeding is not necessarily to impeach the president, but rather, to use an official inquiry to gain access to information that's currently being withheld.

Or put another way, an impeachment inquiry, some proponents argue, could effectively be used as a key to unlock a closed box. Congress needs access to the box's contents, and if official impeachment proceedings are the only way to get the information, so be it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), at least for now, continues to oppose the idea, and last night, she and some of her top allies pushed back against the Dems leading the impeachment charge.

For his part, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) huddled with Pelosi on the question, and as of last night, he seemed inclined to follow her lead. That said, Nadler also told reporters last night that an official impeachment inquiry "might" strengthen congressional investigators' hands, which suggests he hasn't yet closed the door to the possibility.