Former Deputy White House Counsel Annie Donaldson did not answer more than 200 questions from House Judiciary Committee Democrats under direction from the White House, in another case that’s likely to be part of the looming court fight between congressional Democrats and the White House over executive privilege and special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
The House Judiciary Committee on Monday released Donaldson’s 55-page written responses to the panel’s questions about episodes described in the Mueller report, which included more than 200 responses that the White House had told her not to respond “because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated.”
The responses are likely to be another data point for the committee when it goes to court to try to enforce its subpoenas. In addition to Donaldson, the panel is likely to sue to seek the testimony of former White House Counsel Don McGahn after he did not appear and to seek to have former White House communications director Hope Hicks answer questions that the White House similarly objected to during her closed-door interview last month.
Donaldson’s written responses did include some responses to questions that Hicks was directed not to answer, such as the location of her West Wing office. Donaldson also provided answers in several instances that she was not present for conversations cited in the Mueller report, saying she did not hear when Trump called McGahn and “directed him to have the Special Counsel removed” or when the Justice Department “informed Mr. McGahn about Michael Flynn’s statements about his contacts with Russian officials.”
But questions that touched on the substance of what Donaldson had seen, heard or taken notes about were largely met with the same response: The White House had directed her not to answer.
Still, there were some tidbits included in Donaldson’s responses.
She confirmed that she had prepared to resign alongside McGahn in June 2017. McGahn, according to the Mueller report, had decided to resign after Trump called him two times at home one Saturday and told him to have Mueller removed. Donaldson declined to tell the committee why she had prepared to resign, citing executive branch confidentiality interests.
She also said she had not recorded any part of her conversation with McGahn that June about the President’s pressure on him to have Mueller removed, saying the events had happened over the weekend when she was “not in possession of my running handwritten notes.” Donaldson told lawmakers she does not know why McGahn decided not to resign at that time.
While she would not say who had been part of a conversation in the White House counsel’s office that had led to a prevailing view among the group that Trump’s original letter firing Comey should “(n)ot (see the) light of day,” as she wrote in notes that were cited in the Mueller report, Donaldson said that at least some parts of those notes had come from conversations that took place in McGahn’s office.
Donaldson is of interest to the committee because of her prolific note-taking, which was referenced repeatedly in the special counsel’s report. She told the committee she began taking notes when she started on the first day of the Trump administration. “It has been my longstanding practice to take notes attendant to my professional responsibilities, which often require me to handle multiple substantive issues within a day,” Donaldson wrote to the panel.
Donaldson said no one at the White House had told her to not provide or discuss any documents during the two interviews she had with the special counsel’s office – in 2017 and 2018. “I was encouraged by the White House to cooperate fully with the Special Counsel’s Office,” she wrote. She also did not dispute any answers she gave that were cited in the Mueller report.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, issued a subpoena in May for Donaldson to testify before the panel. But last month, the committee struck a deal with Donaldson to instead respond to written questions, in part because she is pregnant and lives in Alabama.
Under the agreement, the committee reserves the right to bring her in for testimony after November 1.