Dems Say Court Can Compel Testimony by White House Lawyer

A name placard is displayed for former White House counsel Don McGahn, who flouted a subpoena Tuesday to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON (CN) – With the chair reserved for former White House counsel Don McGahn empty Tuesday morning, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said Democrats may go to court to enforce the subpoena that demanded McGahn’s appearance.

“Our subpoenas are not optional,” said Nadler, a New York Democrat. “Mr. McGahn has a legal obligation to be here for this scheduled appearance. If he does not immediately correct his mistake, this committee will have no choice but to enforce the subpoena against him.”

Then-White House counsel Don McGahn at a Cabinet meeting in the White House in October 2018. (AP file photo/Evan Vucci)

McGahn was scheduled to testify before the committee on Tuesday morning as part of the panel’s look at the investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the 2016 presidential election, which faced manipulation from Russia to boost the campaign of Republican candidate Donald Trump. 

In April, Nadler subpoenaed McGahn, who is a central figure in the section of Mueller’s report focused on possible obstruction of justice by Trump. 

This included one scene in which McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out Trump’s instruction that he have Mueller fired.

Though the committee’s subpoena demanded McGahn testify and turn over documents related to Mueller’s investigation, the White House wrote to Nadler on Monday afternoon that the White House was instructing McGahn not to appear for his scheduled testimony. The White House said McGahn is immune from being called before Congress, citing an opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel released on Monday along with the letter.

McGahn’s absence is the latest move from the administration to buck congressional subpoenas, a pattern that has drawn the ire of Democrats and brought the question of impeachment closer to the forefront of congressional conversations.

Nadler said Tuesday the administration’s attitude toward congressional subpoenas is “not remotely acceptable,” and accused Trump of trying to “run out the clock” on House Democrats’ investigations.

“We will hold this president accountable, one way or the other,” Nadler said.

Representative Karen Bass, D-Calif., told reporters after the hearing it is still too early to move to impeachment, but that the administration’s actions toward Congress have made the issue more relevant.

“When you’re dealing with a completely lawless administration, then at some point in time, you’re going to have to act,” Bass said. “I don’t know that that is today, I would not act today, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be forced to act very soon.”

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