Former White House lawyer fails to testify before House committee

Don McGahn skips hearing as Trump lawyers appeal ruling on financial records

A seat is reserved for former White House lawyer Don McGahn, who had been expected to testify at a House judiciary committee hearing on the Mueller report, in Washington, DC, US. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

A seat is reserved for former White House lawyer Don McGahn, who had been expected to testify at a House judiciary committee hearing on the Mueller report, in Washington, DC, US. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

 

Lawyers for Donald Trump have appealed a ruling by a federal judge compelling accountancy firm Mazars to turn over financial records related to the US president.

On Monday, a federal judge in Washington ruled that the House of Representatives oversight committee had the power to subpoena Mr Trump’s financial records from Mazars. Judge Amit Mehta rejected arguments from Mr Trump’s legal team that the request by the congressional committee had “no legitimate legislative function”.

It is the first time since the publication last month of the Mueller report into Russian interference in the 2016 election that the courts have weighed in on the issue of how much power Congress has to hold the president to account.

On Tuesday morning lawyers for the president, in a filing to the court, said they were appealing “all aspects” of the decision. Mr Trump also hit out at the judge himself, denouncing him as an “Obama-appointed judge”.

“It’s crazy,” he told reporters as he left the White House shortly after the ruling emerged. “This never happened to any other president.”

The court decision is a boost to Democrats as they seek to investigate the president in the wake of the Mueller report, which did not exonerate Mr Trump on obstruction of justice claims.

The House ways and means committee is also locked in a legal standoff with the White House about access to Mr Trump’s tax affairs. Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin missed a deadline last Friday to provide six years of the president’s tax records to the committee. Committee chairman Richard Neal said that he was now consulting with lawyers about the next steps, though it is expected the committee may go to court.

As tensions between Congress and the White House continued, former White House counsel Don McGahn did not show up for a scheduled appearance before the House judiciary committee on Tuesday, after the White House ordered him not to attend. The committee is investigating whether Mr Trump obstructed special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry.

Dismissing a subpoena issued against the former White House counsel by the committee as “wasteful and unnecessary”, the Trump administration argued that Mr McGahn had full immunity from a forced congressional testimony, citing several legal precedents.

‘Not optional’

The committee met on Tuesday despite Mr McGahn’s absence. “When this committee issues a subpoena, even to a senior presidential adviser, the witness must show up. Our subpoenas are not optional,” committee chairman Jerry Nadler said.

“We will not allow the president to stop this investigation, and nothing in these unjustified and unjustifiable legal attacks will stop us from pressing forward with our work on behalf of the American people. We will hold this president accountable, one way or the other,” he said.

Mr McGahn, who left the White House last year and is now working for a private law firm, emerged as a key figure in the Mueller report when it was published in April.

According to the report, he told investigators that Mr Trump directed him to remove Mr Mueller from his role during the summer of 2017.

The move to block Mr McGahn from testifying this week was the latest escalation in the battle between the White House and Democrats in Congress over how much oversight power congressional committees have over the president.

The deepening standoff has renewed calls from some Democrats to consider beginning impeachment proceedings against the president. It was widely reported that during a private meeting on Monday a handful of senior Democrats pushed leader Nancy Pelosi to consider impeachment, though the House speaker remains opposed to such a move, arguing it could backfire electorally for Democrats.

Democrats are also said to be in conversation with Mr Mueller about possible congressional testimony by the former special counsel.