House Judiciary Committee Files Lawsuit to Force McGahn to Comply with Subpoena

Published on August 7, 2019 by Athena Pallas

The latest step in the battle against the Trump administration’s stonewalling is a lawsuit filed today by House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) seeking to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to comply with a subpoena. That subpoena had sought McGahn’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, but McGahn, following instructions from the White House, defied the subpoena by refusing to appear. The Trump White House has attempted to thwart congressional oversight and investigation by advising current and former officials not to testify, even when subpoenaed to do so, and by refusing to hand over requested documents, even when subpoenaed to do so. On the subject of documents, there is good news in that lawyers for the House Judiciary Committee today announced that they have reached an agreement with McGahn on turning over documents, although that agreement forbids the committee from making those documents public, at least for now. So the lawsuit filed today relates only to McGahn’s testimony, not document turnover.

The Trump White House has attempted to assert broad executive privileges, including by arguing that current and former high level administration officials are immune from being compelled to testify before Congress. Nadler’s lawsuit, filed today, has been widely anticipated for some time, as McGahn was a central figure in Robert Mueller’s investigation, providing information that Trump indeed had requested that McGahn get Mueller fired during that investigation, but McGahn had refused to comply with that request, stating that he would resign rather than do so. According to The Hill:

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) filed a civil lawsuit Wednesday to enforce a subpoena for testimony from Don McGahn, after the former White House counsel initially defied lawmakers’ request for his appearance before the Judiciary panel at the Trump administration’s direction. …The White House has invoked “absolute immunity” in instructing McGahn to defy the congressional subpoenas, claiming that the confidential nature of executive branch activities shield the former counsel from making any of those conversations public. Whether that doctrine would hold up in court remains to be seen, although some legal experts are doubtful. A federal court in D.C. previously ruled that Harriet Miers, the White House counsel under former President George W. Bush, was not immune from testifying. …The Democratic counsels said they want McGahn to testify openly and in front of the “American public” about what he saw first-hand, including how Trump reacted to certain pieces of news like Mueller’s appointment. “This has the potential to be the most important of them all,” one of the committee counsels said, comparing it to other “riveting moments of congressional testimony.”

Many legal scholars believe the Trump administration’s legal arguments will not be successful when tested in court, but those court battles, even if the rulings do eventually go against the Trump administration, inject a significant delay in the House’s ability to continue with its oversight and investigation of that administration.

Featured image of Don McGahn by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.