WASHINGTON (CN) – Ramping up pressure on the White House and a key figure in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, House Democrats asked a federal judge Wednesday to order former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify before Congress.
Wednesday’s lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C., federal court stokes divisions between Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the committee, who are fiercely divided on whether to launch an impeachment inquiry.
Calling McGahn the “most important witness other than the president” to events that are the focus of the Judiciary Committee’s investigation into potential obstruction committed by President Donald Trump during Mueller’s probe, the lawsuit says the former White House counsel’s testimony is “essential.”
“The Judiciary Committee is now determining whether to recommend articles of impeachment against the president based on the obstructive conduct described by the special counsel. But it cannot fulfill this most solemn constitutional responsibility without hearing testimony from a crucial witness to these events: former White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II,” the complaint states.
A formal vote to begin an impeachment inquiry has not yet been held in the House of Representatives. Currently, 118 of the 235 Democrats in the House have voiced support for starting the inquiry. While the support is considerable, it falls short of the two-thirds majority required to impeach the president.
McGahn’s testimony is critical to winning over more support for the venture, Democrats argue, because he witnessed “many of the most egregious instances of possible obstructive conduct and attempted coverup.”
The president’s former counsel told Mueller’s team in over 30 hours of interviews that Trump ordered him to fire Mueller in June 2017. McGahn refused and threatened to quit. Though the president backed off for awhile, McGahn told investigators Trump asked him to make a public statement suggesting Trump never ordered Mueller’s removal after news reports began to surface about the alleged directive six months later.
McGahn refused again. He told Mueller that Trump threatened to fire him but McGahn was steadfast: the reports were accurate, the president did pressure him.
The former White House counselor further resisted Trump’s attempts in March 2017 to have former Attorney General Jeff Sessions un-recuse himself from the Russia investigation. He was also privy to conversations the president had around his decision to fire then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James Comey.
“Given his central role in these and other events outlined in the report, McGahn is uniquely positioned to explain those events, bring additional misconduct to light and provide evidence regarding the president’s intent,” according to the lawsuit penned by the House’s general counsel Douglas Letter.
McGahn’s attorney William Burck issued a statement ahead of the complaint being filed.
Trump, Burck said, instructed McGahn to fully cooperate with Mueller but he also directed him not to testify before Congress.
“When faced with competing demands from co-equal branches of government, Don will follow his former client’s instruction, absent a contrary decision from the federal judiciary,” Burck said.
During an MSNBC segment on Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., suggested the committee could begin impeachment inquiry proceedings as soon as the fall or within the “latter part of the year.”
The lawsuit is the second recent filing in Democrats’ pursuit of evidence to use for possible impeachment. On July 26, the committee asked a federal judge for secret grand jury material tied to Mueller’s report. Without it, impeachment inquiries are stunted, lawmakers argued.
McGhan’s refusal to testify has created “grave, ongoing and irreparable” damage to the committee’s authority, according to Wednesday’s complaint.
“Furthermore, because the House is not a continuing body, the Judiciary Committee’s investigation and the articles of impeachment referred to the Committee related to the investigation will necessarily end on January 3, 2021…Every day that the Judiciary Committee is without McGahn’s testimony further delays its ability to pursue its inquiries on issues of national importance before the current Congress ends,” the lawsuit states.
The White House did not immediately respond to request for comment Wednesday.
But the committee’s ranking Republican, Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, weighed in Wednesday night.
“Democrats’ decision to unilaterally end the accommodations process and file a lawsuit serves only to shut off this committee’s access to the White House and DOJ documents. Their insistence on having Don McGahn testify publicly before the cameras further proves they are only interested in the fight and public spectacle of an investigation, but not actually in obtaining any real information,” Collins said.