Liberty – Don McGahn must testify about time as White House lawyer, judge rules – POLITICO
Don McGahn must testify to Congress about his time as the White House’s top lawyer, a federal judge ruled Monday — a decision that will put pressure on other reluctant Trump administration witnesses to testify about President Donald Trump’s actions.
In an opinion that could reshape the balance of power between Congress and the executive branch, U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said that McGahn, who spent 30 hours talking to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, can’t hide behind Trump’s claim that he is “absolutely immune” from speaking to the House Judiciary Committee.
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The ruling also has immediate implications for House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. It brings them one step closer to a trove of new testimony related to Mueller’s evidence of obstruction of justice — and it could prompt a handful of witnesses in the even more perilous Ukraine probe to testify over the president’s objections. But a potentially lengthy appeals process looms and could postpone any benefits Democrats hoped to gain in the short-term.
Justice Department lawyers had argued that “absolute immunity,” a designation reserved for a select few members of the president’s inner circle, is essential to protecting the president’s ability to seek candid advice from his top advisers. They also insisted the federal courts had no role trying to get between a dispute between the other two branches of government.
But Jackson, an appointee of President Barack Obama, rejected both arguments.
“DOJ promotes a conception of separation-of-powers principles that gets these constitutional commands exactly backwards,” Jackson wrote in her 120-page opinion. “In reality, it is a core tenet of this Nation’s founding that the powers of a monarch must be split between the branches of the government to prevent tyranny.”
Jackson called absolute immunity “a fiction” that has been propagated by a succession of presidential administrations by simply repeating it as a fact while avoiding testing the principle in court.
A Justice Department spokeswoman quickly indicated the department would appeal the ruling. Democrats say Jackson’s opinion should still take effect immediately to prevent the president from running out the clock on their impeachment probes. That makes any additional decision by Jackson or an appellate court panel about whether to halt Monday’s order until any DOJ appeal is resolved a pivotal moment in the Democrats’ fast-moving impeachment effort.
Bill Burck, McGahn’s attorney, said the former White House counsel “will comply with Judge Jackson’s decision unless it is stayed pending appeal.”
McGahn’s testimony could reinvigorate Congress’s stalled efforts to probe Trump’s potential obstruction of justice during the Mueller probe. In his final report, Mueller detailed numerous instances in which Trump attempted to interfere with or even shut down the special counsel’s investigation
Mueller left the decision on whether to punish Trump to Congress, but the Justice Department has blocked lawmakers from viewing much of his underlying evidence and the White House has opposed lawmakers’ efforts to seek testimony from some of the special counsel’s most important witnesses.
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