Don McGahn, former White House counsel, must testify before House impeachment investigators, ruled a federal judge in Washington on November 25. Previously, the Trump administration had ordered McGahn and other White House senior officials to defy a subpoena to appear before Congress to provide testimony in the Trump impeachment inquiry.
The White House had said that McGahn and a group of other current and former senior White House officials were protected from testifying before Congress by “absolute immunity,” given their positions in the administration.
But in response to a lawsuit filed by the House Judiciary Committee, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled that the president does not have the power to excuse McGahn from testifying.
“Stated simply,” wrote Jackson, “The primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings.
“…This Court holds that Executive branch officials are not absolutely immune from compulsory congressional process — no matter how many times the Executive branch has asserted as much over the years — even if the President expressly directs such officials’ non-compliance.”
Though McGahn must testify, he does retain the right to invoke executive privilege “where appropriate.”
“If McGahn wants to refuse to testify, such as by invoking executive privilege, he must do so in person and question by question,” said Jackson.
Don McGahn was a key witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Consequently, he is at the center of one of the strongest charges against Trump in the impeachment inquiry: criminal obstruction of justice by Trump in the Mueller probe.
During Mueller’s investigation, McGahn told Mueller’s team that Trump had ordered him to fire Mueller. When news of this became public, according to McGahn, Trump told McGahn to deny, in writing, that Trump had wanted to have Mueller fired.
At the time, McGahn stated that he would rather resign than fire Robert Mueller. In October, 2018, McGahn did step down as White House Counsel.
Though the Trump administration is expected to appeal, Brown’s ruling could have implications for other key witnesses such as John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney, who have ignored subpoenas, or who have filed suits challenging the lawfulness of the subpoenas.
“Don McGahn will comply with Judge Jackson’s decision unless it is stayed pending appeal (by the DOJ),” said McGahn’s attorney, William A. Burck.
Judge rules Don McGahn must comply with House subpoena | Fox News [2019-11-25]
News Wrap: Judge rules former White House lawyer McGahn must testify to Congress | PBS NewsHour [2019-11-25]