/House Judiciary Committee to subpoena ex-White House aide Rob Porter

House Judiciary Committee to subpoena ex-White House aide Rob Porter

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and former White House staff secretary Rob Porter

Former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, pictured with former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is mentioned several times in the Mueller report. | Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

The House Judiciary Committee will subpoena former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, a key witness in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation into President Donald Trump, as the panel weighs whether to recommend articles of impeachment.

Porter, who resigned his post last year amid allegations that he abused his two ex-wives, was at the president’s side during several episodes of potential obstruction chronicled in Mueller’s 448-page report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s attempted to thwart the probe.

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The White House is likely to block Porter from complying with the committee’s subpoena, which seeks public testimony. White House and Justice Department lawyers have repeatedly asserted that former top presidential aides have “absolute immunity” from testifying to Congress, a claim House Democrats are challenging in court with a lawsuit seeking former White House Counsel Don McGahn’s public testimony.

The subpoena to Porter comes as the committee is ramping up its obstruction investigation targeting the president, writing in recent court filings that impeachment is a possible outcome of the probe as Democrats seek witness testimony and Mueller’s grand-jury materials.

Porter did not work on the Trump campaign and came to the White House after having served in senior posts for establishment lawmakers including Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and former Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Though the president considered him a confidant and has continued to call him since his departure from the White House, it is not clear whether Porter will defend or protect the president in testimony before the committee, if he complies with the subpoena.

Porter is mentioned several times in the Mueller report because he witnessed many episodes in which Trump tried to constrain the investigation. The report cites Porter’s contemporaneous notes to bolster claims about the president’s actions, painting a portrait of a White House in chaos after Mueller was first appointed as special counsel.

At one point, according to the report, Trump instructed Porter to inquire with a top Justice Department official at the time, Rachel Brand, about taking over supervision duties of the Mueller probe. Trump was particularly incensed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from overseeing the investigation, and Mueller’s report chronicles Trump’s attempts to fire or otherwise interfere with the probe.

Porter ultimately declined to reach out to Brand “because he was sensitive to the implications of that action and did not want to be involved in a chain of events associated with an effort to end the investigation or fire the special counsel,” according to the report.

Porter was also present when Trump lashed out at McGahn for refusing to comply with the president’s directives to have Mueller fired. Porter’s contemporaneous notes documented Trump’s deep frustrations with McGahn, including his threats to fire the White House counsel. The notes also revealed that Trump called McGahn a “lying bastard” and accused him of leaking damaging information to the news media.

Porter also wrote that McGahn believed Trump’s threats to fire him were empty because of the poor optics of such a decision. It was that belief that motivated McGahn to resist Trump’s directives, including that McGahn write a false letter denying a New York Times story that revealed the president’s instruction to have Mueller fired.

Earlier this month, the panel served subpoenas to former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former top White House aide Rick Dearborn, who were also key Mueller witnesses on Trump’s potential obstruction of the investigation. The committee is also working to secure more extensive testimony from former White House communications director Hope Hicks.

During his tenure at the White House, Porter developed a close relationship with Trump as well as with senior White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. At the same time, he worked overtime to thwart many of the president’s policy objectives, particularly on tariffs, and the Mueller report details how he defied some of the president’s orders in other areas.

That makes any potential testimony from him — should it happen — more of a risk for the White House than that of loyalists like Hicks or Lewandowski.

For example, Porter and Gary Cohn, Trump’s former top economic adviser, had a pact that they would quit if the president imposed tariffs, according to a source familiar with the matter. Porter was fired before any tariffs were imposed, but Cohn resigned when the first round of tariffs was announced.

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