US: White House orders ex-counsel McGahn to defy House subpoena

White House instructs Don McGahn to ignore a congressional subpoena for documents related to the Mueller probe.

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    White House Counsel Don McGahn listens to Judge Brett Kavanaugh give his opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington [File: Win McNamee/Pool Image via AP Photo]
    White House Counsel Don McGahn listens to Judge Brett Kavanaugh give his opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington [File: Win McNamee/Pool Image via AP Photo]

    Washington, DC - The White House has instructed former White House Counsel Don McGahn to ignore a congressional subpoena for documents related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

    Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney directed McGahn to defy the subpoena, according to current White House counsel, Pat Cipollone.

    "The White House records remain legally protected under long-standing constitutional principles, because they implicate significant executive branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege," Cipollone said in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

    He added that McGahn, who was a star witness in Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation, does not have the "legal right" to the documents and the panel should, therefore, direct its request to the White House. 

    In a separate letter on Tuesday, William Burck, McGahn's lawyer told the committee that "as former assistant to the president and the most senior lawyer for the president in his official capacity, [McGahn] continues to owe certain duties and obligations to the president which he is not free to disregard."

    Jerrold Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, issued a subpoena to McGahn on April 22, asking him to turn over his notes and information on 30 specific topics by 10am on Tuesday.

    The Democrat-led committee, which is investigating potential abuse of power and obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump, had asked for any notes or documents McGahn has regarding former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his contacts with Russian officials during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. 

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    The committee also sought McGahn's information on Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey. 

    There was no immediate response from Nadler or the panel regarding the letters. The subpoena also demanded McGahn appear at a public hearing to be held on May 21.

    Escalating battle

    Tuesday's refusal was the latest in an escalating fight between Democrats and the Trump administration over investigations looking into Trump's behaviour and finances.

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    Separately on Tuesday, staff lawyers for the committee were meeting with officials at the Department of Justice in an attempt to negotiate an accommodation with Attorney General William Barr for the full, un-redacted Mueller report and underlying evidence, which would include McGahn's testimony.

    Barr has refused to comply with an April 22 subpoena for the full Mueller report. He also skipped a scheduled hearing before the committee on May 2. The committee has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday to consider a contempt citation for Barr, a step towards litigation in federal court over access to the report.

    Republicans are seeking to shut down House Democrats attempts to investigate Trump and are calling for Washington to move on to a policy agenda.

    "The special counsel's finding is clear. Case closed," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican and key Trump ally in Congress, said in a Senate floor speech Tuesday morning, prompting a response from Democrats.

    "Senator McConnell's declaration of 'case closed' is a stunning act of political cynicism and a brazen violation of the oath we all take," Senator Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement.

    "The Special Counsel report laid out eleven instances of the president's obstruction, and left a raft of unanswered questions about coordination between the president's campaign and Russia," the top Democrats said.

    McConnell's comments prompted Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, to read portions of the Mueller report on the Senate floor.

    Warren, who has called for Trump's impeachment, said she was "shaken" by Mueller's evidence and findings. 

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    "Instead of reading the words of the special counsel's report, they just want to circle the wagons around this president," she said.

    "If any other human being in this country had done what is documented in the Mueller report, they would be arrested and put in jail."

    Barr released a redacted version of Mueller's 448-page report last month. It did not establish that the Trump campaign conspired with Russian operatives. The investigation did, however, examine "multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations".

    Mueller did not conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice, but did not exonerate him either. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein subsequently concluded that Trump did not break the law.

    The Justice Department has made a less redacted version available for House and Senate leaders and some committee heads, but the Democrats have said that is not enough and have so far declined to read it.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News