Legal experts warn Trump's refusal to cooperate with impeachment inquiry may subject federal workers to criminal exposure
US President Donald Trump says there is "nothing wrong" with listening to foreign governments offering dirt on his political opponents. (AFP / SAUL LOEB)

The Trump Administration’s refusal to cooperate with an impeachment inquiry by the U.S. House of Representatives was evident on Tuesday when White House Counsel Pat Cipollone sent an angry letter to House Democrats declaring, “President Trump and his administration reject your baseless, unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process.” Legal experts have been discussing the type of legal exposure that the Trump Administration is subjecting federal employees to, and writer Eric Katz discusses that exposure in an October 8 article for the Government Executive website.

On Tuesday, Katz notes, the Trump State Department refused to make Gordon Sondland (U.S. ambassador to the European Union) available for a scheduled deposition pertaining to Trump’s interactions with the Ukrainian government. And House Democrats have responded to the Trump Administration by saying that they will subpoena Sondland.

“If the (Trump) Administration continues to block (Sondland) and other employees from complying with Congress,” Katz explains, “it could put individuals in a precarious legal position.”

Katz notes that according to legal experts that Government Executive has spoken to, “employees subject to conflicting demands have two options” — and the first one “is to violate orders from management and give Congress what it wants, assuming protections under whistleblower law.” The “second possibility,” Katz writes, “is to exercise federal employees’ statutory ‘right to disobey’ orders that violate laws, rules or regulations.”

Dan Meyer, a partner in the law firm Tully Rinckey, told Government Executive, “The best way to advance your career in the short term is to obey management. That’s the sad part about it.”

Government Executive also spoke to Debra D’Agostino, founding partner at the Federal Practice Group — and according to D’Agostino, the “general rule” for federal workers who are asked to do something they find questionable is to obey orders and complain through legal channels later. But D’Agostino warned that federal employees could face obstruction of justice charges if they aren’t careful.

“The defense, ‘I was just doing what I was told,’ only goes so far,” D’Agostino told Government Executive. “In most cases where you should know better, you should know better — and you’re going to be held responsible.”

According to Meyer, “You want that grievance in place. You want that paperwork to say, ‘I did what I was told, but I reported it.’”