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Republican-led Senate panel subpoenas Donald Trump Jr.

There have been plenty of subpoenas and confrontations of late, but the new subpoena for Donald Trump Jr. is wildly different from the rest.
Image: Republican National Convention: Day One
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 18: Donald Trump Jr. listens to a speech on the first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 at the Quicken Loans...

When Donald Trump Jr. testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017, he fielded questions about the Moscow tower project the Trump Organization pursued during the campaign. It was a project, we later learned, that his father lied to the public about.

Regardless, the president's eldest son testified at the time that he was only "peripherally aware" of the proposal. That may not have been true. In fact, Michael Cohen told the same committee that he briefed Trump Jr. repeatedly about the project before the deal fell through.

And with this in mind, lawmakers would like to hear from Trump Jr. again -- and they don't want him to see this as optional.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. to answer questions about his contention that he had only limited knowledge of a project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, a source with direct knowledge told NBC News.The committee, led by Republicans, is nearing completion of its investigation into Russian election interference -- a probe that is expected to result in a series of written reports.

There have been plenty of subpoenas and confrontations of late, but it's worth pausing to appreciate what makes this development so unusual.

For one thing, as NBC News' report noted, this is the first known congressional subpoena of a member of the president's immediate family. (Trump Jr., like his father, refused to volunteer to answer Special Counsel Robert Mueller's questions.)

For another, the subpoena sets up another potential clash between Team Trump and Congress. Trump Jr. was reportedly "exasperated" by the committee's move, and as Rachel noted on the show last night, appears likely to fight the subpoena.

But perhaps most striking is the partisan dynamic, which in this case, is wholly unfamiliar.

In recent weeks, as reports of new subpoenas have generated near-daily headlines, this latest development is new: the subpoena for Trump Jr. came by way of a Republican-led Senate committee. It's not sitting well for some in the GOP.

Republican lawmakers on Wednesday ripped the decision by the Senate Intelligence Committee to subpoena Donald Trump, Jr., the president's eldest son and a key witness in the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of President Trump's closest Senate allies, swiped at Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, for prolonging the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election."Apparently the Republican chair of the Senate Intel Committee didn't get the memo from the Majority Leader that this case was closed..." Paul tweeted in response to news reports that Burr has subpoenaed Trump Jr. to answer questions about his previous testimony to the panel.

Oddly enough, I thought of the same joke as the senator, though from a very different perspective. When I heard about the Trump Jr. subpoena, one of my initial reactions was, "Well, I guess Mitch McConnell was wrong." Rand Paul, on the other hand, apparently meant, "Mitch McConnell declared 'case closed,' so it's incumbent on Republicans to stop seeking answers."

Either way, there's a core truth that's hard to miss: the end of the Mueller investigation did not mark the end of the larger controversy.

Postscript: In case this isn't obvious, the Senate Intelligence Committee is chaired by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who's made some notable cameos of late.