WASHINGTON — A federal judge ordered former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify to Congress in a sweeping rebuke to President Trump with big potential implications for Trump’s impeachment proceedings.
The ruling drops a hammerblow directly on Trump’s argument that even former members of his administration are immune from cooperating with the House impeachment inquiry, noting that the separation of powers in the U.S. government is necessary “to save the people from autocracy,” quoting former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.
“Mr. McGahn’s failure to appear was without legal justification,” Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled, ordering McGahn to testify.
House Judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler, Democrat from New York, said McGahn should march down to Capitol Hill promptly and tell what he knows.
“Now that the court has ruled, I expect him to follow his legal obligations and promptly appear before the Committee,” Nadler said in a statement praising Monday’s ruling.
But the verdict could have broader implications for other witnesses on the fence about whether to testify before Congress, including former National Security Advisor John Bolton and current White House lawyer John Eisenberg.
The lawsuit over McGahn’s testimony began in August, before the House kicked off its effort to impeach Trump over a backdoor pressure campaign to convince Ukraine to investigate Democrats. But it is directly tied to the impeachment effort, because the House Judiciary Committee specifically invoked the Constitutional power of Congress to impeach a president as its rationale for needing to hear from McGahn.
Bolton’s attorneys have argued that he’s different from McGahn, in part because his role as National Security Advisor focused on national security issues, suggesting he’ll try to argue that the McGahn ruling shouldn’t apply to him, as Democrats have suggested.
Eisenberg may observe the ultimate ruling in the McGahn case, although he will wait until the appeals process has played out, which could take months, according to a person familiar with Eisenberg’s thinking.
McGahn was initially sought as a witness to discuss potential obstruction of justice by Trump during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. McGahn’s name came up repeatedly in Mueller’s final report.
Over 1,000 former prosecutors have signed an open letter stating that the Mueller report presents sufficient evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of justice if he weren’t protected by a Department of Justice policy stating that a sitting president can’t be indicted.
Attorneys working for House Democrats have told the judge they need to hear from McGahn in part to help determine whether Trump lied to Mueller in written answers.
Trump’s lawyers are widely expected to appeal Monday’s ruling.
Cover: White House Council Don McGhan attends a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)