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Ex-White House counsel Don McGahn ordered to face impeachment inquiry

McGahn was a star witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Don McGahn
Don McGahn
Image: Saul Loeb via PA Images

A US FEDERAL judge has ordered former White House counsel Donald McGahn to appear before Congress in a setback to Donald Trump’s effort to keep his top aides from giving evidence.

The outcome could lead to renewed efforts by Democrats to compel evidence from other high-ranking officials, including former national security adviser John Bolton.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled in a lawsuit filed by the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

McGahn was a star witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and Democrats wanted to question him about possible obstruction of justice by the president.

That was months before the House started an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to announce an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden.

An appeal is likely. The White House has argued that McGahn and other witnesses have “absolute immunity” from giving evidence.

But Judge Jackson disputed the administration’s reasoning in a 118-page ruling.

“That is to say, however busy or essential a presidential aide might be, and whatever their proximity to sensitive domestic and national-security projects, the president does not have the power to excuse him or her” from complying with a valid congressional subpoena, she wrote.

Whether McGahn has to provide all the information Congress seeks is another matter, the judge wrote. The president may be able to assert “executive privilege” on some sensitive issues, she said.

Mueller witness

McGahn was a vital witness for Mueller, whose April report detailed the president’s outrage over the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and Trump’s efforts to curtail it.

In interviews with Mueller’s team, McGahn described being called at home by the president on the night of 17 June 2017, and being directed to call the Justice Department and say Mueller had conflicts of interest and should be removed.

McGahn declined the command, deciding he would resign rather than carry it out, the report said.

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Once that episode became public in the news media, the report said, the president demanded McGahn dispute the news stories and asked him why he had told Mueller about it and why he had taken notes of their conversations. McGahn refused to back down.

It is unclear if McGahn’s evidence would include any new revelations beyond what Mueller has already released. The special counsel concluded he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice, but also that there was insufficient evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

House Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry have yet to try to force Bolton to give evidence, and a subpoena for his former deputy, Charles Kupperman, to appear was withdrawn. Democrats have said they do not want to get bogged down in court fights over evidence.

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