Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff to US President Donald Trump appears to have broken ranks with his boss, over whether he should testify, when the House begins public hearings of the impeachment probe of the president.
According to reports, Mulvaney is seeking a court pronouncement on whether he should testify having been subpoenaed or simply obey his boss, by ignoring the House.
To get the court’s definitive decision, he asked his lawyers on Friday, to join a lawsuit that already has Trump as defendant, along with congressional leaders.
The lawyers tried to finesse that by saying in the body of their motion that the defendants they really wanted to sue were the congressional leaders, but their own motion still listed Trump at the top as a defendant because that is the suit they sought to join.
In effect, Mulvaney hopes the court will tell him whether to listen to his own boss, who wants him to remain silent, or to comply with a subpoena from the House, which wants his testimony.
That put Mulvaney at odds with some other current White House and administration officials who had simply defied the House, citing the president’s order not to cooperate with what he called an illegitimate “witch hunt.”
Mulvaney did not explain why he chose a different course, but his decision focused renewed attention on his relationship with Trump; it has been increasingly strained as House Democrats prepare to open public hearings into whether the president should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.
“It’s symptomatic of a White House that is more dysfunctional than ever — except now it’s not just chaos, the long knives are coming out,” said Chris Whipple, the author of “The Gatekeepers,” a history of White House chiefs of staff. “Everybody, including the White House chief, seems to be lawyering up.”
Whipple could not think of any precedent for a chief of staff going to court rather than obey a president’s order. “Given that Mulvaney has been willing to do almost anything for Trump, it’s remarkable that he’s asking for a second opinion,” he said.