Then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn looks on as Donald Trump speaks (File)
A federal judge rules former White House counsel Don McGahn must testify to House committees in the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, of the Federal District Court for Washington DC, said senior Presidential staff must comply with congressional subpoenas. He dismissed arguments for the Trump Administration as “fiction”.
The decision is a blow to the White House’s attempts to block testimony and provision of documents to House Committee, ordering staff not to accept the subpoenas.
Despite the command, 17 current and former US officials have testified so far to the House Intelligence Committee, confirming Trump’s pressure on Ukraine for investigations to tarnish Presidential candidate Joe Biden.
However, the Justice Department immediately announced it would appeal, ensuring that McGahn and others sought by the committees — such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and former National Security Advisor John Bolton — will not soon appear.
Bolton has said that he has significant information about the UKraine affair, but is awaiting a definitive court ruling before answering a subpoena. Mulvaney wavered in saying he might be guided by the McGahn decision, but then assured that he would not testify. Pompeo has said firmly that he will not appear before the House committees.
The Intelligence Committee completed public hearings last week. Democrat members indicated, that given the possible length of the legal battle — and their confidence in the weight of evidence from those who testified — they will proceed with the drafting of their report. That will be given to the House Judiciary Committee, which will draft articles of impeachment for consideration.
In the 120-page decision, Jackson wrote:
Presidents are not kings. They do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.
The judge said the law required not only McGahn but also “other current and former senior-level White House officials” who receive a subpoena to appear. However, she said her ruling applied only to the former counsel, who left the White House in October 2018.
McGahn’s testimony was initially sought over the evidence of Trump’s obstruction or attempted obstruction of justice, in at least eight case, in the Trump-Russia report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The lawyer was interviewed for 30 hours by Mueller’s team. But in May, when he was summoned by the House committees considering the report, he was ordered by Trump not to comply. The White House has indicated it will invoke executive privilege to prevent any disclosures.
The White House suffered a further blow as another federal judge ruled that e-mails between the White House and the Pentagon, about Trump’s freezing of $391 million of military aid to Ukraine, must be released under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Last week, another court order led to publication of documents confirming calls between Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, pursuing the Ukraine investigation of Biden, and Secretary of State Pompeo.
Trump was given a brief respite from pressure by the Supreme Court, which temporarily blocked an appeals court ruling requiring Trump’s accounting firm Mazars USA to turn over financial records to another House committee.
Justices will consider whether to take the case. Even if they hear arguments, there may be no ruling until June.
Plaintiffs are seeking several years of Trump’s financial statements, amid allegations — including by Trump’s long-time fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen — that Trump issued misleading and false statements that may constitute tax and insurance fraud.