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Nadler says Democrats are fighting a ‘tyrannical administration’ on Mueller report

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., blasted President Donald Trump on Thursday for refusing to cooperate with various Democratic-led congressional inquiries into his administration. “You cannot have a democratic government … if the executive denies all information,” he told PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff, suggesting that backing down from a fight would be giving in to a “tyrannical administration.”

“We are in a constitutional crisis because of the administration’s contempt for law, and their refusal to obey the law,” Nadler said, mentioning the Trump administration’s refusal to deliver the president’s tax returns to a House committee, as well as the decision “to defy all subpoenas from the House.”

Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said the Trump administration has “turned the Justice Department, who is supposed to enforce the law, into an agency for defying the law, as the personal property of the president.”

On Wednesday, the committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress, in reaction to a Justice Department decision to withhold the full, unredacted Mueller report from lawmakers. The White House also announced it is invoking executive privilege over the report. Any ensuing legal fight between Trump and House Democrats could drag out for months or years.

But Nadler on Thursday expressed confidence that the courts would not favor Trump in the anticipated standoff over the balance of power in government, and predicted that Congress’ authority to compel information would be upheld, saying “the law is quite clear.”

Nadler said he hoped the outcome would be “a swift court order with compulsion behind it.”

“There’s no question legally we’ll win,” he told Woodruff. “The question is how long it will take.”


Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump's decision to defy the House Judiciary Committee's subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report puts the administration and House Democrats on a collision course.

    Democrat Jerry Nadler chairs that committee, and issued a stark warning this week that the country is in a constitutional crisis.

    Chairman Nadler joins us now from Capitol Hill.

    Chairman Nadler, thank you for being here.

    My question is…

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … are we at an impasse?

    The president saying, I'm not going along with any subpoenas from Congress. You have the White House press secretary saying what you did in holding the attorney general in contempt is unlawful.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY:

    Well, we are in a constitutional crisis because of the administration's contempt for law, their refusal to obey the law, whether it's their refusal to hand over the president's tax returns to the chairman of Ways and Means, when the law says they must do that, whether it's their family separation at the border, whether it's the — their not — their opposing the constitutionality of a duly passed act of Congress, the Affordable Care Act, in court.

    And now the president's obstructions of justice, as documented in the Mueller report, and now the president's decision — and announced decision — that he's going to defy all subpoenas from the House.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY:

    That means he's denying the role of the House of Representatives as a coordinate branch of government, and he's trying to establish the presidency as a dictatorship.

    You cannot have a democratic government which is supposed to be tripartite, the legislative, the judiciary and the presidency, if the executive denies all information, even…

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY:

    … and even — and denies all lawful subpoenas. It's just a complete defiance of law. And that's a crisis.

    And the other part of it is that they have turned the Justice Department, which is supposed to enforce the law, into an agency for defying the law, as the personal property of the president, against the laws of the United States. That is a crisis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Congressman, what recourse does Congress have, realistically?

    I mean, if all this ends up in the courts, aren't you looking at weeks and months of wrangling in the court, with no resolution here?

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY:


    Well, we're certainly looking at weeks, maybe months, in court, but we have no alternative, because we have to vindicate the rule of law and we have to insist that the president — no president is above the law. No American is above the law. And no president is above the law, or a dictator.

    We — presidents have to respect Congress, as the representatives of the American people, and have to be willing to give information requested by Congress on behalf of the American people.

    And simply to say you're not going to obey any — any subpoenas is flat-out defiance of law, is going is — is going to be found wrong in court. The courts are not going to sustain that. There's no basis for it. But they're just trying to — they're being totally lawless.

    And a lawless administration is a tyrannical administration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But what does that mean, Congressman Nadler, in terms of what you can do?

    You have — you're now holding — your committee has voted to hold the attorney general in contempt. My understanding is that citation expires at the end of this term of Congress. What recourse do you, the others in Congress have to make the administration cooperate?


  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY:

    The only recourse we have is to cite the attorney general. And I'm sure others — I'm sure that other committees will be citing other officials in the administration for contempt shortly.

    We will pass those on the floor of the House, and we will have to go to court.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But my question is, what does it lead to?

    And, meanwhile, the American people…

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY:

    What it leads to, hopeful — what it leads to, hopefully, is a swift court order, with compulsion behind it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm sorry. Could you repeat that again?

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY:

    What it leads to, hopefully, are swift court orders, saying you must apply this information, or you must do this or that, as the case may be, with the court-ordered compulsion behind it.

    A court can fine an official $40,000 or $50,000 or $100,000 a day until he does what is necessary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But our understanding is the law around so many of these issues is not black and white. It's not all entirely clear, that, again, you're looking at wrangling…

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY:

    I disagree. I disagree.

    The law — I disagree. The law is quite clear on most of these issues. For example, any subpoena must be adhered to. The information must be supplied, unless you have a legal reason not to do so. And presidential privilege, which they're claiming, has certain limits.

    And the Supreme Court 8-0 nothing in the Nixon case said that even the most closely held privilege, where the president was talking to his own advisers, is not valid when you're talking about potential wrongdoing by the administration.

    Second of all, it is very clear, black letter law, that once you give any give any information to a third party, to the press, to somebody's lawyer, to the Mueller investigation, you have waived the privilege.

    And all the information we have demanded is of that character. So there's no question legally we will win. The question is how long it will take.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman, very quickly, as you know, the administration's pointing out that something like 92 percent or more of the Mueller report has already been made public.

    So what more is it that you and others in Congress need to see?

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY:

    The other 8 percent.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY:

    And you can't judge the importance of information from percentages.

    And in every previous case, whether it was the Nixon case, or the Iran-Contra case, or the Clinton case, in every — or other cases — Congress, or at least the Judiciary Committees, have seen all the information and the underlying materials.

    We admit — we agree that some of that information cannot be made public. But that decision is up for the — is for Congress, the Judiciary Committee, not for the — not for the president and not for the attorney general.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So finally, Congressman, it sounds like you're not backing down.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY:

    We are — we cannot back down.

    To back down would be to admit that the administration may hold all material secret from Congress, and Congress might as well go home. And then you have the president as a dictator, above the law. We cannot admit that.

    We rebelled against George III 250-odd years ago, and we cannot admit that it was all a waste of time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Chairman Jerry Nadler of the Judiciary Committee, thank you.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY:

    You're welcome.

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