Appeals court wrestles with subpoena for ex-White House aide

Former White House counsel Don McGahn

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments Friday over the House Judiciary Committee’s effort to compel McGahn’s testimony. The administration appealed after a trial judge rejected its broad claim that close advisers to President Donald Trump have complete immunity from congressional subpoenas for their testimony.

The committee wants McGahn’s testimony as it examines potential obstruction of justice by the Republican president during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. But it has held open the possibility that McGahn’s testimony could be important in impeachment, even though the two articles of impeachment adopted last month by the House focus on Ukraine and events that occurred after McGahn left his White House post.

Even if McGahn eventually shows up at the committee, it’s unclear whether he would have much to say. Trump could assert executive privilege over some matters, though he allowed McGahn to talk extensively to Mueller’s investigators.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee subpoenaed McGahn well before the start this fall of an impeachment inquiry centered on Trump’s request to Ukraine’s president that he investigate Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son as well as an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory alleging Ukraine’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Justice Department has asked the appeals court to dismiss the case, saying there’s no reason for judges to become involved in a political dispute.

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