White House Blocks Ex-Counsel’s Testimony to House Panel

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

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Trump administration said Monday it will prevent former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying before the House Judiciary Committee this week, the latest move to buck investigations by House Democrats.

McGahn was scheduled to appear before the committee on Tuesday morning, but in a two-page letter sent Monday, current White House counsel Pat Cipollone said McGahn is “absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony” and will therefore be missing his time in the spotlight.

“This long-standing principle is firmly rested in the Constitution’s separation of powers and protects the core functions of the presidency and we are adhering to this well-established precedent in order to ensure that future presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the office of the presidency,” Cipollone wrote.

Cipollone’s letter cites a 15-page opinion released Monday from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that says House committees cannot force McGahn or other senior advisers to the president to come before them.

“We provide the same answer that the Department of Justice has repeatedly provided for nearly five decades: Congress may not constitutionally compel the president’s senior advisers to testify about their official duties,” the opinion states.

Citing past opinions from the office reaching a similar conclusion, the opinion states the immunity from testimony is important so the president can receive “sound and candid” advice from the people in his inner circle.

McGahn plays a prominent role in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible obstruction by President Donald Trump. Mueller did not make a traditional prosecutorial decision on whether Trump obstructed justice, but instead detailed in the report instances that could be considered attempts to obstruct the investigation.

Perhaps the most notable scene relayed in the report was when McGahn threatened to resign instead of complying with Trump’s instruction to have Mueller fired.

McGahn has since left the Trump administration and is now a partner at the Washington, D.C., firm Jones Day.

Since the conclusion of the Mueller investigation last month, the Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., has launched its own look into the core allegations, an inquiry the White House has resisted.

The committee voted earlier this month to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for defying a congressional subpoena to turn over an unredacted version of Mueller’s report. The Treasury Department last week also defied a subpoena for Trump’s tax returns from the House Ways and Means Committee.

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