A federal judge has ordered former White House counsel Donald McGahn to appear before Congress in a setback to President Donald Trump’s effort to keep his top aides from testifying.
The outcome could lead to renewed efforts by House Democrats to compel testimony from other high-ranking officials, including former national security adviser John Bolton.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a 2013 Obama administration appointee, ruled Monday in a lawsuit filed by the House Judiciary Committee that presidential aides "do not have absolute immunity from compelled congressional process in the context of this particular subpoena dispute."
"Compulsory appearance by dint of a subpoena is a legal construct, not a political one, and per the Constitution, no one is above the law," Jackson's 120-page ruling read, according to reports.
The Justice Department will appeal the ruling and seek an immediate stay, according to department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec.
"This decision contradicts longstanding legal precedent established by administrations of both political parties," White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement reported on Twitter. "We will appeal and are confident that the important constitutional principle advanced by the administration will be vindicated."
McGahn was a star witness in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and Democrats wanted to question McGahn about possible obstruction of justice by Trump. That was months before the House started an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden.
"Don McGahn will comply with Judge Jackson's decision unless it is stayed pending appeal," William A. Burck, McGahn's attorney, told The Washington Post. "DOJ is handling this case, so you will need to ask them whether they intend to seek a stay."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., applauded the ruling in a statement:
"The Courts have been clear: the President’s insistence that he is above the law is an offense to our Constitution and to every American. Today's District Court decision in the McGahn case is yet another resounding ruling that the administration's claim of 'absolute immunity' from Congress's subpoenas has no basis in the law or our democracy, and must immediately cease. Again and again, the Courts have reaffirmed the Congress's constitutional authority to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people."
Information from The Associated Press and Bloomberg News was used in this report.
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