Even in a White House of never-befores, this may be one of the more head-spinning: The president's chief of staff is trying to join a lawsuit against the president.
Mick Mulvaney works only about 50 steps from the Oval Office as he runs the White House staff but rather than simply obey President Donald Trump's order to not cooperate with House impeachment investigators, he sent his lawyers to court late Friday night asking a judge whether he should or not.
To obtain such a ruling, the lawyers asked to join a lawsuit already filed by a former White House official — a lawsuit that names "the Honorable Donald J. Trump" as a 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'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."
House investigators issued a subpoena to Mulvaney Thursday, but he failed to show up for a House deposition scheduled for the next morning. Hours later, his lawyers went to court.
Mulvaney initially resisted getting outside legal help after some of his allies told him he did not need it. But as House Republicans have indicated that they may focus on Mulvaney's role in the pressure campaign on Ukraine, possibly blaming him rather than the president, it has become clear that the chief of staff's own interests may be in conflict with the White House on this issue.