Congress has subpoenaed over 80 individuals and entities in their oversight of the Trump administration. Will the President be able to successfully block this by asserting executive privilege? We discuss on MSNBC Stephanie Ruhle.

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Will Trump’s use of Executive Privilege be successful to block Congress’ subpoenas?

March 8, 2019

Stephanie Ruhle: I want to bring in my panel, Robert Costa, national political reporter for The Washington Post, and moderator of course, of Washington Week on PBS. Cynthia Alksne, the former federal prosecutor, Robert Bianchi, a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, Bret Stephens, a columnist for the New York Times, and my deer friend Eddie Glaude, a Princeton University professor. Robert Cost, to you first, how would you describe the way the White House or what their strategy in response to all these requests?

Robert Costa: They’re approaching a subpoena fight, at the moment they’re trying to rebuff democratic request for documents from possible testimony from White House officials, and others around President Trump. But if the Democrats in the house do not get what they want this could lead to a subpoena fight. A fight that then could extend into the courts. For now, the White House is trying to argue the Democrats don’t have a right to security clearance information because it’s classified at some level, and it’s complicated, and sensitive. But Democrats are really looking for the president’s conduct with regard to those security clearances, and so they may be able to try to have a battle over the extent of what they can find document wise, but still ask those tough questions about what the president did with regard to his daughter Ivanka Trump and his son in law, Jared Kushner.

Stephanie Ruhle: Cynthia, technically, how much can the president hold back by using executive privilege? And if he does, what can Democrats actually do about it?

Cynthia Alksne: This is the mystery with executive privilege, nobody knows? Nobody really knows because it’s not litigated that much because usually people come to some agreement about it. My guess is we’re going to have-

Stephanie Ruhle: I’m pretty sure we’re not going to see an agreement.

Cynthia Alksne: We’re not, so what’s going to happen is finally, the courts are going to have to flush it out. So, the White House is going to Stonewall, and eventually it’ll go to the courts. And I predict it’s going to go all the way up because there just isn’t a lot of, there isn’t a lot of the case law on it. Well it’s kind of shocking how little case law there is.

Stephanie Ruhle: But for the President, he will drag things out and it will take time.

Cynthia Alksne: Absolutely that’s a positive.

Stephanie Ruhle: I want to read part of what Political wrote, specifically about the White House’s plan to not share the President’s tax returns, they write this: “The strategy will hinge on an argument that politically motivated Democrats will inevitably leak Trump’s tax information- a felony in and of itself- if the IRS hands over the documents.” So, officials will say, “So because Democrats cannot be trusted to keep the documents private, they shouldn’t get them in the first place. So, that’s the arguments and that argument could apply to not only to tax returns, but there are loads of documents.

Robert Bianchi: You can make that argument in the context of any of the politics including all the investigations of Hillary Clinton, and the Obama administration. That is not a legal basis to deny an executive privilege, in my opinion, will fail because there were two lower court decisions both in the Bush administration and in the Obama administration, where there was a lengthy fight over executive privilege with the subpoena power that Congress clearly has a right, as far as oversight is concerned. And they lost those arguments in the courts, now it may take years to litigate and those didn’t go to appeal. But ultimately Stephanie, what they did was they came to a compromise, which I assume is going to happen here. Weekly Congress is on the right grounds legally here, practically, it’s going to take forever.

Stephanie Ruhle: Bret, I need to read to you a piece from the New York Times article that came out yesterday specifically talking about the hush money pay outs that Michael Cohen paid. When I read this, I was like, this cannot be for real. “Some people close to Mr. Trump privately predicted that he will ultimately choose to seek a second term in part because of his legal exposure if he’s not president.” Let’s just talk about how twisted that is. He would run because if he is a private citizen, he’ll get indicted.

Bret Stephens: Yeah.

Stephanie Ruhle: Technically speaking, uh yeah.

Bret Stephens: I mean of course that’s the case because he has the whole article.

Stephanie Ruhle: I’m searching for country first in here.

Bret Stephens: The whole architecture of the executive to protect him from criminal wrongdoing that he may have, that he may be guilty of, as a private citizen. I mean I have said previously, but that I think that the pay offs to Stephanie Clifford, and Ms. McDougal, were clear and willful violations of campaign finance laws that carried on into his presidency and they are impeachable offences but because they’re impeachable that means they’re fundamentally being viewed as political light. It’s a different story once he becomes a private citizen.

Stephanie Ruhle: I’m just going to become President again because I don’t want to get indicted, that’s into twisted, Eddie-

Bret Stephens: Vladimir Putin thought the same thing many times.

Stephanie Ruhle: My goodness, okay Eddie, I know you don’t want to answer this question but I’m going to ask you. Democrats they have to thread carefully here. There’s a new candidate pole that says, by a margin of almost two to one Americans do not want Congress to begin the process of impeaching President Trump. If you were a Democrat right now, what do you do? Because I remember just before the midterms, our road warriors were out there, and as angry as voters were with the President, they’re all saying I just want a better life. I want healthcare, I want good schools, I want to get paid more money. Democrats are in a little bit of a tricky spot, you know?

Eddie Glaude: Yes, they are but they have their constitutional responsibility right. So, there are two things that we have to be mindful. Obviously, we have to be mindful of the politics and we have to understand that we’re representative democracy. And part of the idea of a representative democracy is that we have to ensure that the basic fundamentals of our country are in place. If it’s the case that Donald Trump has in fact broken laws, if it is the case that he’s the head of a criminal organization, if it is the case that that is proven, it is proven the monitor report shows that he’s somehow was complicit with Russia’s attempt to meddle in our elections, then it’s their constitutional responsibility to impeach. And so, I understand the politics, I understand that there are some folks out there, particularly those folks watching fox news every day, that state news channel. I understand that there’s some folks who just want to worry about putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads and alike, but there are the fundamentals of the country that we have to be mindful of. And the Democrats need to understand that, so what’s great really quickly, what’s wonderful about this current moment is that we actually see the legislative branch actually doing what’s constitutional. Taking its constitutional responsibility.

Stephanie Ruhle: Bob, do Democrats have a strategy here to sort of coordinate all of these investigations, and at the same time focus on issues that are kitchen table issues, that matter to everyday Americans? Is Nancy Pelosi that person? Because when I watch the President speak yesterday, and say these requests are a disgrace, we should be focused on infrastructure. I’m looking for someone to say, great Mr. President, we have infrastructure what seven times? What’s your game plan?

Robert Costa: At the moment, Democrats want to stretch out these investigations because they know they have yet to make a full case to the American people about their view of President Trump’s alleged obstruction, his conduct in office, the whole aspect of Russian interference in the 2016 election. That’s why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is tamping down talk of impeachment proceedings, she wants the committee process to work it’s will over the course of the next year, ahead of the 2020 election. And with regard to prescription drug reform and drug pricing, and infrastructure, that has always been the talk of divided government but so far very few examples from the White House or from congressional Democrats of how they could actually forge a compromise on those big fronts.

Stephanie Ruhle: Well, we’re watching, Cynthia, I want to move off Capitol Hill for a moment and take you to New York City, because Michael Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis is calling for more investigations into that hush money paid to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. And I want to share this, New York State Attorney General, a Manhattan district attorney, “Based alone on these Trump personal hush money reimbursement checks to Cohen while he was president, probably have jurisdiction to launch an investigation of Mr. Trump.” “Indeed, arguably, the Manhattan DA could seek a criminal indictment of Trump while he is still President since the DA is not literally subject to department of justice memo.”

Cynthia Alksne: That’s right and all of these things are coming up today the key word is state, right. It’s all the state charges that the state insurance charges, and anything having to do with campaign finance violations of the state. And that takes it out of the department of justice and provides some freedom. I do think though everybody is just waiting for the Mueller report, and that’s why people are saying, no we’re not ready for impeachment because we said fifty thousand times, let’s wait for the Mueller report. And so, that’s what Americans are saying, let’s wait for the Mueller report, before they make a decision.

Stephanie Ruhle: Well, we might not ever see it. All of these investigations, Bob, are they acting independently or are they coordinated in some way?

Robert Bianchi: Stephanie, we’re on the precipice of the best tactical questions being asked on TV right now. I haven’t been sitting-

Stephanie Ruhle: I thought I was asking them for the last few years, what have you been doing?

Robert Bianchi: I have been saying from the beginning, it answers the political problem that the Congress has. Many of these offenses are state crimes. I was in charge of state crimes working in conjunction with the federal authorities, they can sit there, and we know the attorney generals essentially called the Trump charity, for example, has been disbanded. The language in that press release essentially could have been criminal charges. So, they are not subject to the DOJ regulations, and moreover, they’re not subject to the President’s pardon power. If they’re working in coordination with one another, well they may be able to escape it by just going to the President, Jared Kushner, Ivanka, the trump organization, these hush money payments. All these things implicate state crimes, question is kind of what you just said rhetorically, bring it back to you, are they working in coordination with one another? Or are they doing separate and independent investigations. I’ve no doubt the New York State Attorney General is all over this.

Stephanie Ruhle: Oh, my goodness. We’re going to leave it there, but trust me, this topic isn’t going anywhere.