Trump orders Don McGahn not to testify to Congress

May 20, 2019

President Trump ordered former White House top lawyer Don McGahn not to testify to Congress, heading off a highly anticipated session with Democrats on Tuesday.

Armed with a legal opinion from the Justice Department, current White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said Mr. Trump is acting under longstanding precedent in refusing to let one of his top advisors speak about his activities within the White House.

“The Department of Justice ... has advised me that Mr. McGahn is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters occurring during his service as a senior advisor to the president,” Mr. Cipollone wrote to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

And because Mr. McGahn’s work for the White House is exempt, he cannot be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel said.

Mr. McGahn emerged as a key figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the president’s behavior toward probes into the 2016 election.

In one episode Mr. Trump reportedly ordered Mr. McGahn to orchestrate the firing of Mr. Mueller.

Mr. McGahn refused, including threatening to quit, and Mr. Mueller remained on the job but the incident is among several that Democrats say amounts to obstruction of justice and could deserve impeachment.

Mr. McGahn reported the events to Mr. Mueller over the course of hours of interviews.

House Democrats had made securing Mr. McGahn’s testimony a key test of Mr. Trump’s cooperation with efforts to follow up on Mr. Mueller’s work, issuing a subpoena nearly a month ago. That subpoena asked both for Mr. McGahn to appear in person, and for him to turn over documents related to the special counsel’s investigation.

“Mr. McGahn is a critical witness to many of the alleged instances of obstruction of justice and other misconduct described in the Mueller report,” Mr. Nadler said at the time.

But the OLC, which acts as the chief legal referee within the administration, said presidents of both parties have repeatedly rejected having their close advisors be compelled to testify.

Assistant Attorney General Steven A. Engel wrote that under the Constitution’s separation of powers, the president is entitled to advice without having to worry that the other political branch of government will interrogate every decision.

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