Washington, May 21 (IANS) The White House has blocked former counsel Donald McGahn from testifying to Congress, the latest act of defiance in the ongoing war between House Democrats and President Donald Trump.
McGahn, who Democrats hoped would become a star witness in their investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice, was subpoenaed to testify on Tuesday morning, The Washington Post reported.
The former White House counsel delivered critical testimony in several instances of potential obstruction by Trump detailed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
“The Department of Justice (DoJ) has provided a legal opinion stating that, based on long-standing, bipartisan, and constitutional precedent, the former counsel to the President cannot be forced to give such testimony, and Mr. McGahn has been directed to act accordingly,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in a statement on Monday.
“This action has been taken in order to ensure that future presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the office of the presidency.”
Trump, speaking to reporters on Monday evening, called the directive “a very important precedent. And the attorneys say that they’re not doing that for me. They’re doing it for the office of the president. So we’re talking about the future”.
The DoJ’s 15-page legal opinion written by Assistant Attorney General Steven A. Engel argues that McGahn cannot be compelled to testify before the committee, based on past Justice Department legal opinions regarding the President’s close advisers.
It adds that McGahn’s immunity from congressional testimony is separate and broader than a claim of executive privilege.
The immunity “extends beyond answers to particular questions, precluding Congress from compelling even the appearance of a senior presidential adviser – as a function of the independence and autonomy of the president himself”, Engel wrote.
But Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said Trump was trying to block damaging testimony about him obstructing justice.
“The President acted again and again — perhaps criminally — to protect himself from federal law enforcement. Don McGahn personally witnessed the most egregious of these acts,” he said in a statement.
The White House direction to McGahn, Nadler added, was “just the latest act of obstruction from the White House that includes its blanket refusal to cooperate with this committee”.
Meanwhile, Representative David Cicilline, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter: “If Don McGahn does not testify tomorrow (Tuesday), it will be time to begin an impeachment inquiry of” Trump.