In an unusual legal maneuver to avoid testifying before a House panel, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney joined a lawsuit against President Donald Trump yesterday.
Fast-moving developments placed Mulvaney in the unusual position of defying his boss and suing him in order to get formal approval for the White House directive that he not testify.
However, a day after taking the debate to court, Mulvaney reversed course, saying he will no longer pursue a court judgment affirming he can ignore congressional subpoena requests.
He will instead rely on Trump’s instructions, “as supported by an opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice, in not appearing for the relevant deposition.”
The oscillating drama exposed a chasm among current and former Trump administration officials on how to best respond to accumulating subpoenas.
Mulvaney’s initial decision came in response to the possibility of being charged with contempt of Congress after already missing one interview date.
But to get that formal court ruling he could defy the House, he technically had to sue Trump, who ordered him to ignore the House requests without court action.
A court initially determined in order to rule on Mulvaney’s request, he must join the lawsuit filed by former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman. That suit names several congressional leaders as defendants, as well as Trump himself.
“A lawyer for Mr. Mulvaney alerted the White House Counsel’s Office about the pending filing, and the office raised no objections, according to a person close to Mr. Mulvaney,” The New York Times reported.
“The question whether the president’s authority must give way in the face of a congressional subpoena — the determination Mr. Kupperman has asked this court to make — is central to the question whether the House may take adverse action against Mr. Mulvaney, as threatened,” reads the motion from Mulvaney’s lawyers, William Pittard and Christopher Muha. “For that reason, Mr. Mulvaney seeks to intervene here.”
They also cited the Justice Department’s legal opinion that “preparing for such examinations would force them to divert time and attention from their duties to the President at the whim of congressional committees.”
Now — one day before the impeachment inquiry’s public hearings — Mulvaney’s reversal has once and for all resolved the legal predicament of how Trump’s allies should respond to subpoena requests.
The abrupt decision appears judicious. In a subsequent conference call, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said he was “not inclined” to grant Mulvaney’s request.