U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled that former White House counsel Don McGahn must testify in the impeachment hearings despite claims that he had “absolute immunity” as a top presidential adviser. The Trump administration orders that McGahn must not cooperate with Congress, but Jackson pointed out that “presidents are not kings” and that “no one is above the law.”
Jackson’s decision also puts pressure on other “reluctant Trump administration witnesses to testify about President Donald Trump’s actions.” This ruling also brings House Democrats one step closer to an array of new testimony on Mueller’s evidence of obstruction of justice.
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According to Attorney William Burck, McGahn’s lawyer, McGahn will obey the court’s ruling to testify. In a statement from White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, the order “contradicts longstanding legal precedent established by administrations of both parties.” On the other hand, Jackson said there is no legal basis of the “legal precedent” on presidential aides being immune from subpoenas.
Justice Department lawyers had argued that “absolute immunity” is needed to protect the president’s ability to seek candid advice from his top advisers. They added that “federal courts had no role trying to get between a dispute between the other two branches of government.” However, Jackson rejected these arguments by saying “DOJ promotes a conception of separation-of-powers principles that gets these constitutional commands exactly backwards.”
The judge called absolute immunity “a fiction” that was circulated by a series of presidential administrations “by simply repeating it as a fact while avoiding testing the principle in court.”
According to The Guardian, McGahn had broad influence until he left the post as Trump’s first White House counsel in October 2018.