Former Deputy White House Counsel Annie Donaldson has decided to follow in the footsteps of former White House Counsel Don McGahn today, announcing that she will defy House Judiciary Committee subpoenas to turn over Trump-related documents, because Donald Trump has illegally ordered her to defy the subpoenas. Yet Trump gave the same order today to former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, and the committee says that she’s decided to turn over some of the subpoenaed documents in spite of Trump.
Donaldson and McGahn have both decided to put their lives and reputations through the proverbial shredder by defying their subpoenas. In addition to facing contempt of Congress consequences (which do play out slowly), they’ll be hauled into court, where they’ll rack up massive legal fees in the process, and it’s a given that the courts will eventually order them to testify. At that point they can choose to go directly to jail for contempt of court and stay there indefinitely, or go ahead and testify. We’d guess they’re planning the latter. But why drag it out?
Last month it was widely reported that Donald Trump illegally threatened to withhold millions of dollars in RNC business from Don McGahn’s law firm if he testified. It appears McGahn has decided to sit back and let the courts eventually order him to testify. Once that happens, he can tell Trump that he had no real choice in the matter, and he can hope that Trump will decide not to retaliate.
Donald Trump is presumably holding something over the head of Donaldson as well, though it’s anyone’s guess as to what it might be. In general, Trump only likes to hire people if he thinks he can forever control their actions by using mind games, money, dirt on them, or some other kind of leverage. The question is whether these folks are willing to go rot in jail once the courts eventually order them to testify. For now, they appear willing to swallow whatever contempt of Congress punishment gets doled out.
So why is Hope Hicks partially defying Donald Trump by turning over some documents? She’s now a behind the scenes executive at Fox News, meaning she has a career track and reputation in the industry to protect – to the extent that anyone working at Fox News can have a reputation. She’s turning over just enough documents so that she might avoid being held in contempt of Congress while the courts battle it out. The interesting part will be whether she shows up to publicly testify later this month in accordance with the subpoena, after Trump illegally orders her not to.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report