At Time of Trump-Zelensky Call, Mulvaney Was Already Under Notice From Cummings, Engel and Schiff Not to Hide Records

Note the byline.

In perusing the House Oversight Committee website while looking for something else, I ran across this remarkable letter dated February 21, 2019. It is addressed to Mick Mulvaney as Acting White House Chief of Staff and is from Elijah Cummings, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Eliot Engel, Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Adam Schiff, Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The letter is part of an ongoing effort by Congress to obtain records from meetings between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin that occurred in Hamburg on July 7, 2017 and in Helsinki on July 16, 2018.

The letter reprises press reports of Trump confiscating notes from interpreters and having a general reputation for tearing up documents. Although prompted by their frustration in getting records from these two meetings, the three committee chairmen expand the scope of their direction to Mulvaney to preserve records:

Recall that the Trump-Zelensky phone call took place on July 25, 2019, just over five months after the letter was sent. It seems particularly on point that the letter warned Mulvaney against “relocation” as well as “intentional handling which would foreseeably make such records incomplete or inaccessable”. Certainly, by relocating the Situation Room’s transcript to the code-word level computer system, Mulvaney (or other actor(s) in the White House) did indeed make the record incomplete and essentially inaccessible until the whistleblower complaint forced the publication of a partial transcript.

And how did the White House respond to the letter? The return letter came from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone exactly one month later, blowing off the request for records from the two Trump-Putin meetings in its entirety, citing a claim that the President alone conducts foreign policy. And yet, the letter claimed that the White House fully complies with the Presidential Records Act, under which the three committee chairmen had submitted their request.

I’m wondering if this letter, with its highly specific warning, will increase the legal difficulties for Mulvaney once the impeachment investigation spotlight begins to point his direction.

44 replies
  1. MB says:

    OT, but tangential: how’s the un-qualified lady that replaced Mick Mulvaney at CFPB doing these days? All quiet on the consumer fraud front ?

  2. bmaz says:

    As to the last question, yes, it certainly should.

    And, now, just breaking, Pompeo was on the July 25 call to Zelinsky. Oops. The State Department is in this deeper than even Giuliani indicated. Wow.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Pompeo seems to be in the thick of Trump’s poop.

      Barr, too, He seems to have talked with at least the Australian, UK, and Italian governments in his search to undercut the president’s critics. I guess not much else is going on at his DoJ that requires his attention.

      • bmaz says:

        Right? Being Trump’s latest Roy Cohn is a full time job apparently. And the current DAG, Jeffrey Rosen, has exactly zero experience in the department, as a prosecutor, or, really, anything useful for his current position.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Rosen’s expertise seems spot on for the DoJ: Chaired the ABA’s section on Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice. K&E partner, worked at OMB and DoT.

        He might have slightly more awareness of the law of evidence than Kris Kobach, but he’s probably never been first or any chair in a serious crime prosecution.

        Looks like he’s there as an office manager and because he had Senate confirmation to be Elaine Chao’s Deputy. Anything out of the ordinary, and he’d have to ask Bill for guidance.

        • bmaz says:

          He has never been. Most commenters here have, arguably, as much trial court experience, criminal or civil, as Rosen.

    • BobCon says:

      Also as to the last question, the House will have to fight to make it an issue.

      A narrow bandwidth, fast track process won’t make it happen. Many of these people will dodge requests until they see the House Democrats get serious about using both the formal legal powers they have and the informal PR power they can wield.

      Scattershot threats with weak or nonexistent followup means more stonewalling, and I suspect Mulvaney as a former House member knows exactly what constitutes a serious threat.

      • bmaz says:

        Absolutely. But it was easy to see this coming, if only on “the call” as Pelosi terms it. Without even mentioning the 2.5 year litany of malfeasance that it would be reckless to shine on. It is all so predictable (and it was predicted here), but sad.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Every Hollywood script requires a clean, simple through-line. It’s the only way to keep the people’s attention – if you imagine it’s a tough challenge to navigate Love Island.

    • Molly Pitcher says:

      Gee, this might complicate Pompeo’s desire for elected office.He’s been hoping for the Oval office after logging time in a lesser position I believe.

  3. Ollie says:

    Great readout Jim White. Every time I read that the impeachment will focus on one thing and that is the call….I mean, we KNOW who this man is….we get it…and to even limit the scope of impeachment justifications is now seriously ludicrous. I worry on a daily basis that those rep,ing us in Congress w/this impeachment knows EVERYTHING. So much riding on the next several months. Damn w/Trump’s threats of civil war, arrest for treason: Schiff……

    Thanks for the info.

  4. Sofla says:

    Is there any sanction or other administrative remedy for executive branch officials disobeying a presidential executive order?

    President Obama’s December 2009 EO forbade over-classification for any non-national security reason, including specific language forbidding it for reasons of embarrassment or to hide wrong-doing.

    I know a violation of an executive order creates a predicate for a whistle-blowing report, by statutory language. Anything else?

    Also, older EOs remain in effect and binding upon the executive branch officials unless rescinded by a later EO, is my understanding.

    • Rugger9 says:

      Well, if President Obama did it it must be ignored or summarily crushed into oblivion.

      There are times where it is clear our MSM doesn’t grasp the fact that someone without any shame like Individual-1 will not be constrained by laws or anything else from doing what he feels like. Look at how he’s been screeching about Chairman Schiff. The discussion with Morrison came after the whistleblower allegations came to light and [speculating] well after he was told about them in all likelihood. So, it’s not an error in I-1’s eyes. He’s daring Congress to do something about it.

      The “Texodus” continues and whispers about a GOP revolt are making the rumor mills. While the Texodus is a real thing I’ll remind everyone that the anonymous noises from the GOP mean nothing unless they vote against Palace priorities and since the “base” is rabid and big enough to swamp primaries, the congresspeople will say as little as possible (troubled, concerned, censure, etc.). Also remember that many of them (like true Trumper DeSantis , now FL’s governor) directly benefited from the hacked information in their respective 2016 campaigns, so there is going to be no political will to stop Individual-1.

      • P J Evans says:

        I can see Thornberry’s retirement as genuine – he’s been in Congress a long time. But I wish west Texas weren’t so effing hard-right in its voting.

  5. Ollie says:

    On Twitter I’m reading that Trump pressured the Prime Minister of Australia to work w/Barr to invalidate the Mueller Inquiry. Good god.

    • Rugger9 says:

      IIRC, this all started with Papadopoulos drunkenly blabbing to one of the Aussie diplomats. So, that’s why Morrison was pinged (and he’s a bit Trumpish himself) but PM Morrison gets grilled in Questions Without Notice time every day that the Australian House sits. It’s actually entertaining in some ways (tedious and predictable in others) and I usually see how fast someone gets sent out for Rule 94A violations or will no longer be heard. Tony Smith, the Speaker, seems fair minded but it’s like middle school.

      The Leader of the Opposition will ask what was said … and agreed to by Morrison. I’ll try to get the next one for sure but they’ll go on about it for at least a week I think.

      IIRC Mueller didn’t use anything from the Aussies for his conclusions.

      • Ollie says:

        I can’t believe the tsunami of trash being exposed….finally. Marcy has some great tweets about this story. After I posted I saw her immediately and then I got the just of this explosive story. Damn!

  6. Vicks says:

    Just reading the letter, it is easy to imagine how these kingmakers will rattle off exceptions for all things Trump.
    Is violating the “spirit” of the law vs the letter of the law a real thing in our legal system?

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    If the president alone “conducts” foreign policy, then he alone can pay for it, without the help of Congress.

  8. OldTulsaDude says:

    What are you prepared to do?

    With a corrupt DOJ, State Department, and White House, who is left to file charges?

  9. Eureka says:

    Thanks, Jim. The warning against “mutation” stood out especially to me (“testing” somewhat, too). It will be interesting to ever know the range of what they have done to and with these records.

  10. orionATL says:

    BREAKING! this is very big news (or certainly should be): trump spends a great deal of presidential time in undocumented, and hence secret, conversations and meetings.

    the principal reason for concern with this president is that he is a secret schemer with a long history of working with scoundrels who have, or end up having, criminal histories. while it is possible he is attending to the nation’s serious business, this president has not seemed to especially concerned with that issue in his 2 1/2 years in office.

    from his early days in office there have been reports of the president tearing up notes into tiny pieces and even eating paper with notes. this seems a remarkable obsession with secrecy.

    as always with this president, the key question should be: what is he up to now?

    of relevance to impeachment is that at least since may of this year, the answer is that our president has been assiduously though tacitly pressuring some foreign leaders to generate information that will counter the well established fact that, while a candidate for the presidency in 2016, he colluded extensively with the russian government of v. putin. the heads of state trump has leaned on heavily are those whose government could manufacture post hoc stories that contradicted the evidence collected by the office of special counsel’s investigation

    it should also be assumed until clearly proven false that trump is making specific plans to cheat in the upcoming presidential election. specifically, that he is colluding once again with the russians, or incredible as it might seem, even with the north koreans. as his behavior over his adult life indicates, our president is not a man of finely honed ethical sensibilities.his work with felix sater, roger stone, and paul manafort attest to that.

    • bmaz says:

      I am shocked, SHOCKED I say. Exactly why I have been so adamant all along about a formal inquiry, voted on, and aggressive litigation.None of that is happening yet.

    • OldTulsaDude says:

      The whistleblower has caught on to us
      it’s too late for us to scram
      When we talk we’ll have to do it in code
      so he won’t understand
      When he’s close we’ll have to spell it out
      hide our mouths with our hands
      And when we want to talk about him
      we’ll use this word for our friend

      My C-O-V-F-E-F-E is tearing us apart
      Better C-L-A-M U-P now
      before impeachment starts
      Need to find a way to R-I-D
      ourselves of H-I-M
      That C-O-V-F-E-F-E is gonna
      get the Pres-i-dent.

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