Democrats Promise Investigations If They Win The House
NOEL KING, HOST:
All right. President Trump says he thinks House Republicans will do well in the midterm elections next week, but if they don't and Democrats take control of the House, his administration will face something it hasn't had to deal with yet - oversight from the opposition party. NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith has the story.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: We aren't making any predictions here, but if Democrats do take over the House, here's how Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described her party's plan to CNN.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
NANCY PELOSI: What we will do is exercise oversight, which is the responsibility of the Congress of the United States.
KEITH: For months, Democrats in the House have been sending strongly worded letters to the Trump administration demanding documents and other information. But if they win, rather than toothless letters, their requests would have the bite of subpoena power. Neil Eggleston was White House counsel for President Obama and worked for the Clinton administration, which faced endless investigations.
NEIL EGGLESTON: When the subpoenas started coming, they start coming pretty fast and furious. Congress puts a lot of pressure on to respond quickly and is quite vocal in the press about failure to respond quickly, and so there's a lot of pressure on the White House counsel's office.
KEITH: The White House counsel's office has to make decisions about how to respond to requests from Congress that go to the White House but also the rest of the administration. Alberto Gonzales says the best bet is to negotiate and try to avoid subpoenas or having to assert executive privilege. Gonzales was White House counsel to President George W. Bush.
ALBERTO GONZALES: You burn political capital every time you assert privilege. Immediately, your opponents in Congress, the media will say, what are you hiding, you know, why are you asserting privilege?
KEITH: And if the White House isn't careful, dealing with investigations and oversight requests can become all-consuming. Eggleston says President Clinton made a point of not wanting it to overwhelm policy work.
EGGLESTON: We tried very much to isolate that function so that that function didn't essentially paralyze the entire building, which was, you know, sometimes successful and sometimes not as successful.
KEITH: So what is the Trump White House doing to prepare for the possibility of a Democratic House? Multiple requests for comment were declined on the grounds that they don't want to talk about something that they hope doesn't happen. Ty Cobb, who until earlier this year was the White House lawyer dealing with the special counsel investigation, was asked by CNN whether they're ready.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TY COBB: Yes. Are they prepared? Are there people there who are prepared for that? Yes, there are. They're going to have to add more lawyers.
KEITH: For starters, the lawyer in the Trump White House who had been handling oversight requests left over the summer, and no replacement has been announced. White House counsel Don McGahn left last month before his named replacement could get security clearance. So a lawyer named Emmet Flood is in the role temporarily. Flood actually has a lot of experience dealing with these very issues in past administrations, but it's not clear whether he would do that for President Trump. Bob Bauer, who was a White House counsel for President Obama, says there is another factor that hiring more lawyers can't fix.
ROBERT BAUER: There's the question of whether you're going to have a client whom you can appropriately support, who's going to make it possible for the lawyers to act in defense of the institutional presidency. And that's an open question with Donald Trump.
KEITH: Setting aside Trump, if Democrats do take the House, there will likely be some skilled Republican lawyers with Congressional experience looking for work, and the White House may just be looking to hire them. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.