Last week, the GOP Establishment, more than ready to put the Mueller investigation in the rearview, was frustrated by the subpoena that Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr issued to Donald Trump Jr. Rather than testify before the Republican-led committee, Lindsey Graham suggested on Sunday that the president’s son just ignore the subpoena. By Monday, he revised his statement: Trump Jr. should go physically but check out mentally. “You just show up and plead the Fifth, and it’s over with,” Graham told reporters on Monday. “You’d have to be an idiot as a lawyer to put your client back into this circus, a complete idiot,” he added.
By Tuesday, Trump Jr. had agreed to appear before the committee for a time-limited interview in coming weeks. According to the New York Times, a lawyer for Trump Jr. was prepared to send a “blistering letter to send to the committee, telling its members that Mr. Trump would not submit to open-ended questions before a panel that included multiple Democrats running for president.” The Senate Intelligence Committee initially hoped to ask Trump Jr. about his September 2017 appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Graham, where he said he was only “peripherally aware” of plans to build Trump Tower Moscow — a claim that was contradicted multiple times in the Mueller report.
But before Trump Jr.’s lawyer could send the letter, a lawyer from the committee reached out asking for a “reasonable” path forward. According to the Times, that path will include an “appearance by Mr. Trump in mid-June, with the questions limited to about a half-dozen topics and the time limited to no longer than two to four hours … Another person, who would not be identified, contested that the scope of the topics had been limited.”
If Trump Jr. had chosen to ignore the subpoena, the process — and the party conflict associated with it — would have been much more extended, as explained by Politico:
Contempt is one way forward. But the Senate also has a special option “as an alternative to both the inherent contempt power of each House and the criminal contempt statutes,” according to the Congressional Research Service. The Intelligence Committee and then the full Senate can take civil action to enforce a subpoena in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia or to simply ask for a declaration of the validity of the subpoena, according to CRS.
It’s a tactic aimed more at forcing compliance than punishment and has been used sparingly by the Senate, though the chamber did use the power to compel the production of documents from Backpage.com in 2016, which was accused of facilitating human trafficking.
A report on Monday suggests that Trump Jr.’s testimony problem was, like so many dilemmas within his family, a self-made crisis. According to the New York Times, Senate Intelligence chairman Burr made it clear that he had given Trump Jr. multiple opportunities to cooperate in a process that would have been quiet and unpublicized. Burr told other senators at a private lunch that Trump Jr.’s decision to back out of two voluntary interviews left the committee with no choice but to subpoena the president’s son.
This post has been updated to reflect Donald Trump Jr.’s decision to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee.