FILE PHOTO – White House Counsel Don McGahn listens during U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday told former White House counsel Don McGahn to defy a subpoena to testify before a congressional committee about the Russia investigation, deepening a fight between the administration and Democratic lawmakers.
In a letter to the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s Democratic Chairman Jerrold Nadler, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said that McGahn should not appear due to both “constitutional immunity” and “in order to protect the prerogatives of the Office of the Presidency.”
The committee is investigating whether Trump illegally obstructed the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
McGahn figured prominently in a report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller about the Russia probe and whether Trump committed obstruction of justice.
The report cites McGahn as saying that Trump called him several times in June 2017 to tell him to direct the Justice Department to remove Mueller because of conflicts of interest.
Some Democratic lawmakers say that alleged order by the president could amount to committing the crime of obstruction. Trump has denied asking McGahn to have Mueller removed.Last month, committee chairman Nadler issued a subpoena to McGahn to make him testify before the panel on Tuesday, and has said he would hold the attorney in contempt if he did not show up.
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, meanwhile, issued an opinion on Monday that gave legal cover to the decision to block McGahn from testifying.
In it, Justice Department Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel wrote that, “Congress may not constitutionally compel the President’s senior advisers to testify about their official duties.”
Reporting by Steve Holland, Sarah N. Lynch, David Morgan and Tim Ahmann; writing by Mohammad Zargham; editing by David Alexander and Jonathan Oatis