Treasury releases messages sent by chancellor to former PM and says Cameron phoned junior ministers
First published on Thu 8 Apr 2021 13.32 EDT
Rishi Sunak has been accused of trying to smooth the way for Greensill Capital to gain special access to emergency Covid loans after the release of text messages showing the chancellor told David Cameron he had “pushed the team” to see if it could happen.
The Treasury also revealed that the former prime minister “informally” phoned two other ministers from the department, and sources said he sent “multiple” texts to Sunak’s personal phone. The Treasury refused to release those texts, saying they were sent “with an expectation of confidence”.
Cameron, an adviser to and shareholder in the now-collapsed finance firm, has remained silent over the scandal since it emerged more than a month ago.
Labour said the text messages from Sunak in April last year to the former prime minister, released after a freedom of information request, could have broken ministerial rules and called for a full investigation.
The messages shed new light on how Cameron lobbied for Greensill to qualify for the largest possible tranche of government-backed loans under the Covid corporate financing facility (CCFF), and Sunak’s responses.
Two texts from Sunak to Cameron were released on Thursday. The first, from 3 April, acknowledged a message from Cameron and promised a response that evening or the next morning.
It said: “Hi David, thanks for your message. I am stuck back to back on calls but will try you later this evening and if gets too late, first thing tomorrow. Best, Rishi.”
In the second, from 23 April, Sunak explained that he hoped to find a way for Greensill to qualify for the largest available government-backed loans under the CCFF.
“Hi David, apologies for the delay. I think the proposals in the end did require a change to the Market Notice but I have pushed the team to explore an alternative with the Bank that might work,” Sunak wrote. “No guarantees, but the Bank are currently looking at it and Charles should be in touch. Best, Rishi.”
“Charles” is understood to refer to Charles Roxburgh, the second most senior civil servant in the Treasury.
Earlier documents released under freedom of information rules showed that the day after Sunak’s second text, Roxburgh spoke to Greensill Capital to expand on Sunak’s offer. Several other calls followed, but in June the company was told it did not qualify. Greensill Capital collapsed in March this year, putting 5,000 jobs at risk at the UK firm Liberty Steel, which it had financially backed.
The messages “raise very serious questions about whether the chancellor may have broken the ministerial code”, said Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chancellor. “They suggest that Greensill Capital got accelerated treatment and access to officials, and that the chancellor ‘pushed’ officials to consider Greensill’s requests.
“The chancellor’s decision to open the door to Greensill Capital has put public money at risk. There must be a full, transparent and thorough investigation into the chain of events that saw Greensill awarded lucrative contracts, the freedom of Whitehall and the right to lend millions of pounds of government-backed Covid loans.”
Margaret Hodge, a former chair of the public accounts committee, tweeted: “These revelations show a deep culture of corruption that goes to the heart of this government. This is taxpayers’ money, NOT Tory party money … The chancellor should never have engaged with David Cameron. He should never have phoned Cameron back … We are turning into a morally bankrupt state.”
Cameron’s role in lobbying ministers directly has prompted significant criticism, amid growing evidence of the influence enjoyed during Cameron’s tenure inside No 10 by Lex Greensill, the Australian financier whose company became a leading provider of so-called supply chain finance.
Greensill became so embedded within Downing Street that by 2012 he had an official No 10 business card describing him as a “senior adviser”. Cameron has refused to comment on events.
The Treasury statement on Thursday said that “in the interests of transparency” it could confirm that Cameron also “reached out informally by telephone” to John Glen and Jesse Norman, two junior ministers in the department.
It declined to publish Cameron’s texts, saying: “These communications were made by David Cameron in his capacity as an employee of Greensill, and with an expectation of confidence.”
In a statement released by the Treasury, Sunak said: “It is right that as an institution the Treasury engages with stakeholders and considers policy suggestions that are put to us, especially in an unprecedented crisis. In this instance, it became clear through officials’ discussions with Greensill that their proposal was not workable and would not deliver sufficiently for UK SMEs. And I stand by my decision to reject their request.”
A Treasury source said the department was not obliged under freedom of information laws to release the texts, but it had done so “in order to reassure beyond doubt that there was no wrongdoing and that he acted with integrity and propriety”.
Biden Courts Democrats and Republican Leaders on Infrastructure
The meeting produced little progress, underscoring the political challenge for President Biden as he seeks to exploit the narrowest of majorities in Congress to revive the country’s economy.
Michael D. Shear and
WASHINGTON — To hear the participants tell it, President Biden’s first-ever meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders from both houses of Congress was 90 minutes of productive conversation. It was cordial. There were no explosions of anger.
But the agreeable tenor could barely mask the legislative reality: The two parties remain deeply divided over the president’s proposal for $2.3 trillion in spending to upgrade the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
The meeting produced only minuscule progress on Mr. Biden’s ambitious efforts to invest more broadly in the United States than at any time in generations, underscoring the political challenge for the president as he seeks to exploit the narrowest of majorities in Congress to revive and reshape the country’s economy.
“It was different than other meetings,” marveled Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader and a veteran of chaotic White House meetings with President Donald J. Trump. “Everybody was pleasant.”
Speaking in front of the West Wing shortly after leaving the Oval Office, Mr. McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, said they had agreed with Democrats on the need to settle on what constitutes infrastructure in the first place.
But even on that very minor point, there appeared to have been little movement.
“We first have to start with a definition of what is infrastructure,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters before repeating Republican talking points about Democratic efforts to define infrastructure too broadly. “That’s not home health. That’s roads, bridges, highways, airports, broadband.”
Republicans have balked at the president’s $2.3 trillion “American Jobs Plan,” which would vastly increase spending on home health aides, colleges and broadband as well as more traditional infrastructure targets like roads and bridges. Republican lawmakers have said that there should be less spending overall and that they oppose tax increases to pay for it.
The meeting on Wednesday included Mr. McCarthy and Mr. McConnell, as well as their Democratic counterparts, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. Vice President Kamala Harris also participated.
Since taking office, the president has barely talked with Mr. McCarthy, who voted on Jan. 6 to overturn Mr. Biden’s 2020 election victory in key battleground states. Asked afterward about the election, Mr. McCarthy sought to play down the issue.
“I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election,” Mr. McCarthy said. “I think that is all over with.”
That is not true. Mr. Trump continues on a near daily basis to insist, contrary to fact, that the election was corrupt and stolen from him. And only hours before the discussion at the White House on Wednesday, Mr. McCarthy himself led the charge to oust Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her position as the No. 3 Republican in House leadership because she refused to drop her public criticisms of the former president and her party for the election falsehoods.
The closed-door meeting at the White House was part of Mr. Biden’s attempt to live up to his campaign promise to seek bipartisan agreement on major policy proposals. He pushed through his first legislative achievement, a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, by using a legislative maneuver that allowed it to pass with only Democratic votes.
As the group assembled in the Oval Office, the president told reporters that he hoped to find common ground, at least on infrastructure spending. He joked that he would like to just “snap my fingers” to achieve that goal despite fierce Republican opposition to his plans.
“The bottom line here is we’re going to see whether we can reach some consensus on a compromise,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re going to talk a lot about infrastructure.”
The Republican lawmakers said that they believed the meeting was productive.
Mr. McConnell told reporters after the meeting that he hoped Senate committees would handle the president’s proposals through the normal legislative process, which could increase the chances of a deal. Mr. Biden is scheduled to meet on Thursday with Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, who has taken on the role of lead negotiator for Senate Republicans.
Returning to the Capitol, Democratic leaders framed the meeting as a modest sign of progress.
“It took us a few steps forward,” Ms. Pelosi said. Her Senate counterpart, Mr. Schumer, said that the two parties would “try hard” to get an agreement, taking the “first step” to identify potential areas of common interest.
But it is unclear whether the two sides can agree on enough even to break up the infrastructure plan into two bills: one narrower traditional infrastructure measure that could potentially win bipartisan support, and a larger jobs and tax bill that Mr. Biden might try to push through Congress with only Democrats.
The Republican leaders said they remained unwilling to consider any of the tax increases that Mr. Biden has suggested to pay for the spending.
“You won’t find any Republicans going to go raise taxes,” Mr. McCarthy said, referring to Mr. Biden’s desire to increase taxes on wealthy Americans that were lowered in the 2017 tax bill. “I think it’s the worst thing to do in this economy.”
He and Mr. McConnell also said that their membership remained at odds with the president about how to define infrastructure spending. At one point, Mr. Biden and Democrats pressed their Republican counterparts on a specific proposal to fund a vast network of charging stations for electric cars, but they showed little interest.
“We didn’t go through a list and say, ‘Yes on this, no on that,’” Ms. Pelosi said afterward. “But that emerged as something that they might not be too fond of.”
Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris have toured the country in recent weeks arguing that the spending is necessary to create jobs and ensure that the economic recovery from one of the nation’s deepest recessions does not lose momentum. They have defended the infrastructure proposal from criticism that it includes too much spending on social services programs unrelated to the traditional road-rail-and-sewer definition of infrastructure.
And the differences between the two parties are even starker for Mr. Biden’s second legislative proposal: the $1.8 trillion “American Families Plan,” which seeks to expand access to education, reduce the cost of child care and support women in the work force.
The meeting on Wednesday comes less than a week after a disappointing jobs report, which showed only 266,000 new jobs added in April. Republicans pointed to the data point as proof that Mr. Biden’s policies were creating a labor shortage and that his spending proposals threatened to stoke runaway inflation.
A White House statement after the meeting stressed the president’s desire to avoid partisan clashes that could prevent the United States from taking steps to improve the economy.
“The president also emphasized that whatever differences exist between the parties, the real competition is between the United States and the rest of the world, and that other countries are not waiting for us to equip our people to win in the 21st century,” the statement said.
But the Republican leaders made no secret of their intention to fiercely oppose Mr. Biden’s plans if he tries to go around them. In remarks on the Senate floor before the meeting, Mr. McConnell said Democrats should remember they have only a narrow majority in Congress, “not exactly a sweeping mandate for a socialist agenda.”
And in a campaign text to supporters shortly after the meeting, Mr. McCarthy sought to raise money by saying, “I just met with Corrupt Joe Biden and he’s STILL planning to push his radical Socialist agenda onto the American people.”
A Dangerous Pick at Justice
Why Biden Can’t Look Away From the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis
The escalating conflict comes at a moment of inflection for the United States’ approach to Israel and the Palestinians.
The United States deployed a top diplomat to Israel on Wednesday, in hopes of calming hostilities that have broken out between Israelis and Palestinians.
After throngs of Palestinian demonstrators took to the streets of East Jerusalem in recent days to protest Israeli settlements and the evictions of Palestinians there, particularly in the heavily Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, a crackdown by security forces gave way to escalating violence. Hamas militants have launched rockets into Israel, and the Israeli military has carried out a series of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. On Wednesday, it assassinated a number of Hamas commanders and hinted at moves toward a possible invasion of Gaza.
No recent U.S. president has been able to avoid confronting the tensions between Palestinians and Israelis — but President Biden has shown little interest in getting deeply involved. Wednesday’s decision to send in the U.S. envoy, Hady Amr, reflects the urgency of a difficult situation more than any burning desire by the administration to play peacekeeper.
Still, the conflict comes at a moment of inflection — not only in Israeli politics, where Benjamin Netanyahu’s future as prime minister is in doubt — but also in terms of the United States’ approach to Israel. While the staunchly conservative Mr. Netanyahu closely aligned himself with President Donald J. Trump over the past four years, Democratic leaders in Washington have increasingly shown a willingness to criticize some elements of the Israeli government’s approach, particularly its support for settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods and territories.
Announcing Mr. Amr’s deployment, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken emphasized Israel’s right to continue “defending itself” but also its “extra burden” to prevent civilian deaths, mentioning that Israeli strikes had killed Palestinian children.
For an expert perspective, I turned to to Mark Perry, a senior analyst at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank that advocates military restraint. He has traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories dozens of times, and is the author of 10 books, including “A Fire in Zion: Inside the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process” and “Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage with its Enemies.” Our interview has been edited and condensed.
Hi, Mark. The violence we’re seeing right now follows the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, moves that have led to Palestinian protests and an Israeli crackdown. Can you speak specifically to the significance of what’s going on in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood?
What’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah has been happening for a long time. It’s always been very much up in the air who owns the territory: If you go to the Palestinians, they’ll often show you deeds to the land, and some of those date back to Ottoman times, but they’re not necessarily accepted in Israeli courts. So it’s really been a contentious issue, particularly as Israelis have expanded their settlement activity in the West Bank.
But the demolitions and evictions have been going on long before the events in Sheikh Jarrah. They have been a constant since 1967, when the Israelis took over the West Bank.
How much have Netanyahu’s policies increased the trend?
He’s gotten his support from settler groups; that’s probably his primary base of support. He’s appealed to them by saying he will defend their claims to the land, which are based on the fact that Jewish people have had a presence in the area for 2,000 years. He believes that the ancient claims to the land are binding.
President Trump announced in 2017 that he would recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, a move that was seen as essentially condoning the Israeli government’s push into Palestinian-held land. What was the effect of this on the grappling between Israelis and Palestinians there, and more broadly in terms of geopolitics?
We have to put this in context. There was no love lost between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama, and Obama was seen in many Israeli neighborhoods, especially the Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem, as being pro-Arab.
It was an easy alliance between Trump and Netanyahu. It wasn’t a direct swap — “You support me and I will give you annexation of East Jerusalem” — but it was nearly that. Netanyahu always praised Trump, and Trump gave Netanyahu what he wanted, which was Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.
OK. But why did Trump stand to benefit from Netanyahu’s praise?
It used to be in Washington that support for Israel was bipartisan. Both parties supported Israel almost unconditionally. And the Jewish-American vote was primarily Democratic. But Israel shifted that position in the 1990s and early 2000s. I distinctly remember Israeli leaders coming here and kind of recruiting the evangelical Christian community — and that community is Republican.
Now, Israeli leaders will say that the reason they did that is that their support in the Democratic Party was eroding. And particularly among Jewish Americans, there was growing disaffection with Israeli policies.
And that’s had an effect on the Democratic Party. It is now possible for stalwart supporters of Israel to question Israeli policies and principles. So the change in the political calculus among Israel’s leaders has resulted in a change in the political calculus among Democrats and Republicans, and the parties’ leadership. And this has incredible implications for a guy like Joe Biden.
Let’s talk about Biden. Since taking office he’s been rather quiet on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Is he trying to draw back the United States’ involvement or otherwise make a change to the American status quo, or would he like to keep things about the way they are?
Biden’s been a longtime supporter of Israel. He tells a story about going to breakfast with his mother when he was a little boy, and his mother saying, “Joey, we always support Israel.” But he’s stopped telling the story. I think the Israeli-Palestinian issue just sucked up so much air in previous Democratic administrations that he’s really hesitant to allow that to happen again. We’ve got other equities in the Middle East other than Israel.
And I think there’s a certain amount of exhaustion among Middle East diplomats with the conflict. It’s intransigent. We’re not going to be the ones to solve it. If Israel isn’t ready to negotiate, and the Palestinians aren’t ready to negotiate and solve their problems, how are we going to possibly succeed?
So what’s Biden’s option? One option is to do what no other U.S. president has ever done, and that is to issue a statement like the one he issued on Saudi Arabia: “We support you, but our support is not unconditional. We expect that Israel will take steps to ensure the rights of the people they occupy.”
He would have support among a large number of Jewish Americans. Remember the battle over the Israeli-Palestinian issue on the Democratic plank? That was a sign of what’s coming. There were Democrats who supported Israel who saw the logic in saying that America’s support is conditioned on Israel’s support for human rights. And that Palestinians have a right to land and their freedom. If he would do that, the change that that could bring about could be unprecedented.
Isn’t there some fear among diplomats that anything short of unconditional support for Israel would upend U.S. interests in the region, given that Israel is such a major ally?
It’s significant to note that America’s pivot to Asia has not left a vacuum in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are now conducting back-channel diplomacy with Iran. If Israel was to suddenly realize that America will no longer support them in every instance, they might make the moves that they have needed to make the last 70 years, and actually engage in diplomacy with their neighbors to a degree that they haven’t.
What about the argument that other nations in the region have their daggers behind their backs, and are just waiting for their chance to wipe out Israel?
Pushing back on Israel, and signaling to them that our support is conditional, is not an invitation to Egypt and Jordan to attack Israel. Were they to do so, they’d be defeated in 24 hours. We’d come to Israel’s support.
The fact that our support is conditional doesn’t mean they’re not an ally. Our support for allies has always been conditional. We made it clear to the British in World War II that we were their allies and we would support them, and that we’d even float money to support their economy, but that we were in charge of the relationship. We’re not in charge of the relationship with Israel, and we need to be. They’re in charge, and they’ve been in charge because they’ve always been able to count on bipartisan support in Congress. That is now changing.
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Is the American Work Ethic Dying?
Only by taxing the rich can Johnson become more than a plutocratic populist | Timothy Garton Ash
‘Britain Trump’ is riding high, thanks in part to a divided opposition. But unless his deeds match his words, it may not last
Last modified on Wed 12 May 2021 12.35 EDT
What is the difference between former US president Donald Trump and current British prime minister Boris Johnson? Both men are skilful practitioners of plutocratic populism, but “Britain Trump”, as the president himself called his British ally, might yet prove the more successful.
Trump was a super-spreader of this Anglo-Saxon variant of populism. He promised to help the poor but actually helped the rich. His actions were inseparable from the interests of his own businesses, party donors and a wider oligarchy. True, the US economy did well until the Covid pandemic hit, but there was no substantial economic or social “levelling up”. And then many, especially poorer, Americans died as a result of his culpable mishandling of the pandemic. Trump did not “deliver”, in the way that verb is generally used by commentators, and yet more than 70 million Americans still voted for him at the last election.
Why? Because we use the word “delivery” too narrowly. Support for populism is a cultural as much as an economic phenomenon. Trump did deliver culturally and, so to speak, psychologically. He gave Americans who had felt ignored and disrespected the feeling that he was on their side, and even “one of them” – the blue-collar millionaire taking up the white man’s burden. The emotional politics of identity trumped the rational politics of social and economic interest. He appealed to the 90% while in practice promoting the interests of the 1%.
Trump was only denied a second term because of the unity of a single-party opposition behind Joe Biden, whose “hardscrabble from Scranton” life story and down-home style also appealed to a part of Trump’s electorate. President Biden now has four years to prove that actually giving people decent healthcare, education, social security and job prospects will prevail over the very real emotional power of nationalist, populist narratives. He has made a magnificent start. If he can get enough of his current $6tn (£4.2tn) proposals for post-Covid recovery, infrastructure and welfare spending through Congress, there will be echoes of Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Although Biden comes from a part of the Democratic party that itself became too close to financial interests, he has recognised that the rich must do more to pay for this transformation. That applies especially to the super-rich, who have done disproportionately well out of four decades of financialised globalisation: the share of private wealth held by the top 0.1% in the US tripled from 7% in the late 1970s to about 20% in 2019. Hence his pathbreaking proposal that capital gains should be taxed at the same rate as income.
The British government was rumoured to be contemplating a similar capital gains tax hike in the last budget, but nothing happened. After its recent electoral victories, the Johnson government faces the choice of continuing with plutocratic populism or going beyond it. The scandal around the luxurious refurbishment of Johnson’s flat in Downing Street, the extraordinary access enjoyed by Brexit-supporting billionaire James Dyson and the now collapsed Greensill Capital, and the planning permission row surrounding the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, all speak of a Trump-like intertwining of government, party and plutocratic interests.
At the same time, Johnson has delivered psychologically and culturally to a significant swathe of England in much the same way that Trump did in the US, although with a better sense of humour. Brexit may have happened, but the identity politics of Brexit remain a potent force.
To be fair, in stark contrast to Trump, the Johnson government has also delivered an impressive vaccine rollout, which is one of the biggest explanations of its success in the local elections last week and a key byelection in the former Labour stronghold of Hartlepool. Meanwhile, the negative economic consequences of Brexit have been driven off the front page by the pandemic, and can be rhetorically concealed behind the impact of Covid.
“Is he lucky?” The question Napoleon is supposed to have asked about one of his generals can be answered in Johnson’s case with “so far, yes”. Whereas Biden’s personal skills as a great conciliator and the United States’ seemingly unshakeable two-party system provided an united opposition to defeat Trump, Johnson has the good fortune to face a trebly divided opposition. Keir Starmer has so far failed to do with Labour what Biden managed with the Democrats – bringing together left and centre, young, university-educated urban cosmopolitans and more traditional working-class voters.
The left-liberal side of politics in England is anyway divided between Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens. And then, in the increasingly disunited United Kingdom, it is also divided geographically between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. True, in the recent elections the incumbent Labour administration in Wales also benefited from the “vaccine bounce”; but a far greater cost to Labour is the electoral success of the SNP in Scotland, from where many Labour MPs have been traditionally returned to Westminster.
At the local level, Conservative politicians like Tees Valley mayor, Ben Houchen, are delivering real investments to previously neglected parts of the country that voted for Brexit. In public policy, as in private life, Johnson seems quite happy to spend as if there is no tomorrow. Yet at some point the bills have to be paid, for investment in neglected northern towns as for Lulu Lytle golden wallpaper in his Downing Street flat. If you add what is needed for nationwide “levelling up” to the already huge costs for sustaining the economy through the Covid emergency, plus future bills for the NHS, ambitious green targets, lifelong education and all the other good things just promised in the Queen’s speech, then it is crystal clear that you need more tax revenues to spend on this scale. Regressive taxation, hitting the poor more than the rich, is the opposite of “levelling up”. So the question then becomes: are you prepared to take on the plutocratic interests with which you are so closely linked in order to pay for it? That is what Trump ducked, but Biden is taking on.
So how about that capital gains tax hike in the next budget? Or a wealth tax, which Martin Sandbu of the Financial Times intriguingly suggests is fairer than a capital gains tax. Or a land tax. As Labour’s new shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, argued a few years ago, “the hardest way to make money in this country is to go to work; the easiest way is to own capital, particularly housing”.
If the Conservatives don’t go beyond the confidence trick of plutocratic pluralism, there is just a chance that an electoral alliance of Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens and – if Scotland does not vote for independence in a coming referendum – Scottish nationalists could find a narrow, Bidenesque path to electoral victory in 2023 or 2024. If, however, the Conservatives do go beyond it, adding economic substance to cultural appeal, then political change may be hard to achieve before the second half of the 2020s.
Timothy Garton Ash is a Guardian columnist
House, Biden Administration Reach Deal Over McGahn Testimony
A terse announcement signaled a possible end to a long-running constitutional lawsuit. But former President Donald J. Trump is not a party to the arrangement.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration and House Democrats have reached a tentative deal to allow President Donald J. Trump’s former White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, to testify before Congress about Mr. Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Russia inquiry, according to a court filing late Tuesday.
The deal appears likely to avert a definitive court precedent that would draw a clear line in ambiguous areas: the scope and limits of Congress’s constitutional power to compel testimony for its oversight responsibilities, and a president’s constitutional power to keep secret conversations with a White House lawyer.
An appeals court had been set to hear arguments on the case next week, but lawyers for the Justice Department, which has been defending Mr. McGahn since 2019 against a House subpoena seeking to compel his testimony, and for the House of Representatives asked the court in a joint letter to drop that plan as mooted by the deal.
“The Committee on the Judiciary and the executive branch have reached an agreement in principle on an accommodation and anticipate filing, as soon as possible, a joint motion asking the court to remove this case from the May 19, 2021, oral argument calendar in order to allow the parties to implement the accommodation,” the letter said.
What to do about the subpoena case, which President Biden inherited from the Trump administration, has been a rare locus of institutional disagreement among Democrats in the two branches.
Lawyers in the Biden White House have been hesitant about establishing a precedent that Republicans might someday use to force them to testify about their own internal matters. House Democrats under Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been determined to push forward after frustration that the Trump administration’s uncompromising approach and litigation strategy ran out the clock, preventing any testimony by Mr. McGahn before the 2020 presidential election.
The two sides had been negotiating for several months, leading to delays in the appeals court case. The filing was terse and offered no details about the deal, including what limits, if any, there would be — like whether Mr. McGahn would testify in public and the scope of what lawmakers could ask him to disclose.
But the filing also flagged a potential wild card: “Former President Trump, who is not a party to this case, is not a party to the agreement in principle regarding an accommodation,” it said.
That absence leaves open the question of whether Mr. Trump could try to intervene to block Mr. McGahn from testifying by asserting executive privilege. An attempt to invoke it by Mr. Trump would raise novel questions about the extent to which a former president may assert the privilege when the incumbent president declines to do so.
Should Mr. Trump try to intervene, a rare but limited precedent is a 1977 case, Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Richard M. Nixon could assert executive privilege claims over official records from his White House even though he was no longer the president — but it also weighed that assertion against the contrary view of Jimmy Carter, the president at the time.
That dispute, however, centered on control of Nixon-era White House documents, not a subpoena for a former White House lawyer’s testimony.
The present dispute centers on the House Judiciary Committee’s desire to question Mr. McGahn about matters related to his role as a key witness in the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, about efforts by Mr. Trump to obstruct the Russia investigation.
After the Justice Department made most of the report public, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Mr. McGahn to testify. After he refused to appear, on Mr. Trump’s instructions, the committee sued.
The case has gone through several rounds of convoluted legal fights over constitutional issues that have lacked definitive precedents because previous disputes had generally been resolved with a negotiated compromise, averting a need for a court ruling.
But the lawsuit over the McGahn subpoena is one of an unprecedented number of cases pitting the two branches against each other in court that arose after Democrats took the House in the 2018 midterm elections and Mr. Trump vowed to stonewall “all” subpoenas.
First, the Justice Department under Mr. Trump had argued that Mr. McGahn was “absolutely immune” from any compelled appearance before Congress to testify about his work duties. Last year, the full District of Columbia Circuit rejected that theory.
The Justice Department then continued to fight the subpoena on other legal grounds, arguing that Congress had no “cause of action” that authorized it to sue the executive branch. (The executive branch has taken that position under administrations of both parties, and the Biden administration had signaled that it was prepared to keep arguing it.)
The apparent resolution of the McGahn subpoena case — unless Mr. Trump disrupts it — is similar to a dispute in 2009, when President Barack Obama took office and inherited a House lawsuit over a subpoena for testimony by President George W. Bush’s former White House counsel Harriet Miers related to the firings of United States attorneys.
The Obama administration, a lawyer for the House and a legal representative of Mr. Bush worked out a deal under which Democrats were able to confidentially interview Ms. Miers about the topic, with limits. That accommodation mooted the case, so the District of Columbia Circuit never issued a binding ruling, leaving the legal questions it raised unresolved.
Detentions at Southwest Border Reach 20-Year High
U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained 178,622 people along the border with Mexico in April, the highest number of apprehensions in at least two decades.
About 63 percent of those who were detained trying to enter across the southwestern border were expelled from the United States, the agency said in a news release. The number of minors who were taken into custody dropped 12 percent to 13,962 from March, according to the agency.
The number of immigrants detained at the southwestern border has risen for 12 straight months, according to Customs and Border Protection data. President Biden promised a more humane approach to immigration than did President Donald J. Trump, giving some immigrants, many of whom are fleeing dire economic conditions in Mexico and Central America, hope that they might be able to enter the United States more easily.
While Mr. Biden promised to unwind some of Mr. Trump’s policies, he has urged immigrants to stay home and has given Customs and Border Protection agents more authority to send detained immigrants back under protocols in place to combat the coronavirus.
The latest data release comes after a significant rise in migrant children turned up at the U.S. border this year, raising questions about Mr. Biden’s immigration policies.
Biden Courts Democrats and Republican Leaders on Infrastructure
A Dangerous Pick at Justice
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