White House blocks former counsel from testifying to Congress
WASHINGTON - The White House on Monday blocked former counsel Donald Mcgahn from testifying to Congress, the latest act of defiance in the ongoing conflict 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 Tuesday morning. 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 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. “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 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 15-page legal opinion written by Assistant Attorney General Steven 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.
The move to bar Mcgahn from answering lawmakers’ questions angered House Democrats already eager to respond to what they view as White House stonewalling. The defiance raises the possibility that the House will hold Mcgahn in contempt of Congress, as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has threatened.
An increasing number of frustrated Democrats also want to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump even though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-calif., last week privately downplayed the possibility and encouraged her members to focus on their policy agenda.
Some Democrats believe opening an impeachment inquiry will strengthen their hand in trying to force the White House to comply with document requests and witness testimony, including Mcgahn’s.
Then-white House Counsel Don Mcgahn (Washington./jabin Botsford)