A top House Democratic investigator has agreed not to throw any surprise subpoenas in his oversight of the Trump administration, in a rare bipartisan gesture toward Republicans.
At a panel organizational meeting late last week, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) agreed to consult with his GOP counterpart for two days before issuing a subpoena to force witnesses to testify. Should ranking Republican Doug Collins of Georgia object, Nadler said he would put the subpoena to a vote of the committee.
Story Continued Below
With a majority on the panel, Democrats would easily prevail on any subpoena question that goes before the full committee — and both parties agree there will likely be many. But Republicans like Collins are singing Nadler’s praises just the same.
“I want to thank you for agreeing to an unprecedented level of transparency,” the Georgia Republican wrote in a Monday letter to the New York Democrat. “Working together, we can conduct robust oversight and investigations in the light of day, where our fellow citizens can observe this committee’s work and weigh its merits.”
The new process reflects a transparency that the GOP previously ignored. Republicans changed House rules several years ago so that their panel chairmen could unilaterally subpoena witnesses without consulting with or even notifying Democrats.
Democrats, including former Judiciary ranking member John Conyers, had long criticized the GOP for the move. Now, Republicans are just glad Democrats aren’t giving them a taste of their own medicine.
Such glowing remarks from Collins will be rare on the panel this Congress. Judiciary is home to some of the most contentious political issues, including impeachment, gun rules, immigration policy and oversight of the Justice Department. Should Democrats impeach President Donald Trump, the matter will go through this very committee — and sparks between both sides are expected to fly frequently.
It’s unclear whether other committees, including the Oversight or Intelligence panels, will follow Nadler’s lead. Both have floated the idea of subpoenaing Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, who agreed to testify before the Oversight Committee only to back out.
Nadler’s move comes after he threatened earlier this month to subpoena acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, who rejected ethics officials’ advice that he recuse himself from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Whitaker had promised House Democrats he would answer questions about that decision in January only to have his aides stonewall in scheduling the appearance, Democrats said.
Eventually Whitaker committed to testify on Feb. 8.
Now, however, Nadler has promised to consult with Collins for two days before issuing such forced appearance notices. Nadler has not altogether given up his authority to do an end run around his panel’s minority members, but his comments made clear that doing so wouldn’t be his first move.
“There need not be surprises here,” Nadler said last week. “The ranking member and I may not agree on every issue, but I agree with him here that a fair and open process that respects the rights of the minority is good governance, and lends credibility to the committee as a whole.”