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Trump blocks former White House counsel McGahn from testifying to Congress

May 20, 2019 - 3:29 pm
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(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has ordered former White House counsel Donald McGahn not to testify before Congress about events relating to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, the White House said on Monday.

In a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., White House counsel Pat Cipollone writes "that McGahn is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters occurring during his service as a senior adviser to the President" citing previous Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel opinions, along with OLC guidance specific to McGahn's testimony.

“The immunity of the President’s immediate advisers from compelled congressional testimony on matters related to their official responsibilities has long been recognized and arises from the fundamental workings of the separation of powers. Those principles apply to the former White House Counsel," the Office of Legal Counsel opinion on McGahn reads. "Accordingly, Mr. McGahn is not legally required to appear and testify about matters related to his official duties as Counsel to the President.”

Because of this "constitutional immunity" -- Cipollone writes -- "the President has directed Mr. McGahn not to appear at the Committee's scheduled hearing on Tuesday, May 21, 2019."

"The Department of Justice has provided a legal opinion stating that, based on long-standing, bipartisan, and Constitutional precedent, the former Counsel to the President cannot be forced to give such testimony, and Mr. McGahn has been directed to act accordingly. This action has been taken in order to ensure that future Presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the Office of the Presidency," press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

"The Democrats do not like the conclusion of the Mueller investigation – no collusion, no conspiracy, and no obstruction – and want a wasteful and unnecessary do-over." she said.

Earlier this month, the White House instructed McGahn not to comply with a subpoena from House Democrats for documents related to Mueller’s investigation.

Cipollone argued at the time that “McGahn does not have the legal right to disclose these documents to third parties” and asked that instead of directing requests for documents to McGahn’s attorney, the committee direct the requests to the White House.

McGahn was a central figure in the Mueller report and cooperated extensively with the special counsel’s probe. He met with Mueller's team multiple times for more than 30 hours and questioned more extensively than any other member of the White House staff who went in for an interview.

"Mr. McGahn is a critical witness to many of the alleged instances of obstruction of justice and other misconduct described in the Mueller report,” Nadler wrote last month in a press release accompanying his subpoena request. “His testimony will help shed further light on the President's attacks on the rule of law, and his attempts to cover up those actions by lying to the American people and requesting others do the same."

Mueller had requested to speak with McGahn about the circumstances surrounding former FBI Director James Comey’s firing and his reported involvement in the events surrounding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusing himself from the Russia investigation, the sources said.

ABC News previously reported that McGahn was among the White House staffers who were against any notion of President Trump’s firing of Mueller last June when the president wanted to do just that, a source said.

After news broke that Trump ordered McGahn to fire the special counsel, Trump pressured McGahn to deny that he had been directed to do so, even suggesting to aides that he would fire him unless he complied. Mueller concludes that there is evidence to suggest Trump acted this way to impede his investigation, according to the special counsel's report.

Mueller concluded that "Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn's account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President's conduct towards the investigation."

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