The Trump administration on Monday, via a legal opinion issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, has directed former White House counsel Don McGahn to disregard a subpoena issued by the House Judiciary Committee meant to compel testimony about the president's alleged efforts to obstruct justice by thwarting the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
According to the DOJ memo (pdf), authored by the Office of Legal Counsel, "Congress may not constitutionally compel the President's senior advisers to testify about their official duties. This testimonial immunity is rooted in constituional separation of powers and derives from the President's independence from Congress."
Independent journalist Judd Legum said the order from the White House was a "pivotal moment" in the ongoing battle between the president and House Democrats. "This is the cover-up," he said.
Trump is ordering McGahn to defy a Congressional subpoena to avoid testifying— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) May 20, 2019
There have been crimes
This is the cover-up
This is a pivotal moment
Who will stand up for the rule of law?
As Politico reports:
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) has threatened to hold McGahn in contempt of Congress if he refuses to show up.
Earlier this month, McGahn refused to turn over the requested documents after the White House instructed him not to comply with that part of the subpoena.
The committee kicked off a wide-ranging investigation in March into President Donald Trump for allegations of obstruction of justice and abuses of power. McGahn is emerging as a central witness in the committee’s probe, after special counsel Robert Mueller’s report outlined Trump's directives to McGahn to shut down the Mueller probe.
"The Department of Justice 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," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Monday.
"This action," Sanders continued, "has been taken in order to ensure that future Presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the Office of the Presidency."
Given his role as a key witness in an episode that Mueller indicated could warrant an obstruction of justice charge, lawmakers like Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said it was imperative that McGahn answer questions directly from the committee:
Our democracy is built on an understanding that one branch of government won't systematically obstruct another. Mueller named McGahn as a critical witness: the American people need to hear his testimony. I urge Mr. McGahn to comply with the subpoena. https://t.co/Dtr8BbCsp5— Rep. Ro Khanna (@RepRoKhanna) May 20, 2019