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Trump Ex-Counsel McGahn Ordered to Testify to House Panel (1)

Nov. 25, 2019, 11:18 PM

Former White House Counsel Donald McGahn was ordered by a judge to appear before a congressional committee probing possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump -- a ruling that could deepen his political peril amid an impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats.

Trump claims McGahn is covered by broad presidential immunity and ordered the lawyer to spurn the committee’s subpoena in May, weeks after the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Lawmakers sought McGahn’s testimony to help determine whether Trump had tried to obstruct the Mueller probe.

The ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in Washington is likely to used by Democrats seeking to compel other administration officials who have refused to testify in various probes, including impeachment, from Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Ultimately, an appeals court may decide whether Trump -- who vowed in April that “we’re fighting all the subpoenas” from Congress -- can claim broad immunity for people who used to work for him.

McGahn and other senior presidential advisers “do not have absolute immunity from compelled congressional process in the context of this particular subpoena dispute,” Jackson, a 2013 appointee of President Barack Obama, said in her 120-page ruling.

The Department of Justice “has failed to bridge the yawning gap between a presidential aide’s right to withhold privileged information in the context of his or her compelled congressional testimony (which no one disputes), and the President’s purported power to direct such aides to refuse to show up and be questioned at all,” the judge wrote.

Bill Burck, McGahn’s attorney, said his client “will comply with Judge Jackson’s decision unless it is stayed pending appeal.”

The White House and Trump attorney Jay Sekulow didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

Attorneys for the House of Representatives have called McGahn, who left his White House post last year, “the most important witness, other than the president,” in the obstruction probe. The need for his testimony gained greater urgency with the start of the House’s separate impeachment inquiry over Trump actions involving Ukraine, the Judiciary Committee said in a Nov. 19 filing asking the court to expedite its ruling.

Trump lawyers argued that McGahn, as the president’s former legal adviser, was effectively his alter-ego and absolutely immune from being compelled to testify.

McGahn was a key figure in the White House when Trump fired James Comey as FBI director and as the president tried to dissuade then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation. Mueller’s pointed refusal to clear Trump of obstruction sparked the legislators’ interest in McGahn, who provided extensive information that was cited in his report.

Jackson’s decision comes as another judge in Washington considers former Trump national security aide Charles Kupperman’s request for a ruling on whether he must obey a House subpoena or the president’s prohibition on testifying. A hearing in that case is set for Dec. 10 before U.S. District Judge Richard Leon.

The case is Committee on the Judiciary v. McGahn, 19-cv-2379, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

--With assistance from Jordan Fabian.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Andrew Harris in federal court in Washington at aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
David Glovin at dglovin@bloomberg.net

Steve Stroth

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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