House Democrats, led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), filed a civil lawsuit on Wednesday to enforce a subpoena for testimony from Don McGahn, the former White House counsel who at the Trump administration’s direction defied lawmakers’ request to appear before the Judiciary panel.
The announcement comes two weeks after former special counsel Robert Mueller, who interviewed McGahn extensively as part of his probe into possible obstruction of justice by President Trump, testified for nearly seven hours on Capitol Hill about his 22-month-long Russia investigation.
Lawyers for Judiciary Committee Democrats described McGahn as both “critical” and the “most important fact witness” during a call with reporters Wednesday before the lawsuit was filed, noting that he witnessed key obstruction episodes examined by Mueller.
Those incidents include the president ordering McGahn to remove the special counsel in the middle of his investigation, which McGahn refused to do, and President Trump directing the then-White House counsel to create a false record surrounding the incident.
One Judiciary counsel compared McGahn to John Dean, the former Nixon White House counsel whose testimony before Congress was viewed as pivotal during Watergate.
“It is fair to say that Mr. McGahn is cited more than any other witness” in the Mueller report, another Judiciary counsel said, suggesting the president is stonewalling his testimony because Trump worries it could be damaging.
Nadler indicated shortly after Mueller’s testimony that the McGahn lawsuit, which has been expected for several weeks, was imminent.
The chairman subpoenaed McGahn as part of his panel’s sprawling investigation into possible obstruction and other abuses of power by Trump.
Democrats, who have described this lawsuit as the next “evolution” of their probe, have accused the White House of obstructing it and other House investigations into Trump and his administration and are seeking to remedy what they describe as stonewalling.
Nadler issued a subpoena for documents and testimony from McGahn on April 22, days after the release of Mueller’s redacted 448-page report, which detailed nearly a dozen episodes in which Trump may have obstructed the investigation.
McGahn declined to comply with the document request on instructions from the White House, which said the records “implicate significant Executive Branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege” and told Nadler to direct the requests to the West Wing instead.
McGahn did not appear for May 21 public testimony on instructions from Trump, who cited a new Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion asserting that McGahn is immune from compelled congressional testimony about his tenure in the White House.
Under the standard of immunity, the administration argues that current and former aides cannot be required to disclose what took place in the White House because of the confidentiality protections offered to the executive branch.
The immunity concept has been invoked by Republican and Democratic administrations, but there is virtually no case law on the subject, and some legal experts say the White House is likely to lose in court.
Read the lawsuit below: