Wed, Nov 27, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Court rules White House must comply with subpoenas

AFP, WASHINGTON

A US appeals court judge on Monday ruled that US President Donald Trump’s top aides must comply with subpoenas issued by an impeachment investigation against him.

In a case involving former White House counsel Don McGahn, who was subpoenaed in May by the US House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Judge Ketanji Jackson ruled that Trump administration officials cannot claim absolute immunity from testifying based on their closeness to the US leader.

While Jackson ruled specifically on McGahn’s case, she said that it had broad application to all current and former presidential aides.

“Presidents are not kings,” Jackson wrote in her decision. “No one, not even the head of the executive branch, is above the law.”

The US Congress has the power to subpoena any of the president’s advisers, regardless of whether they are involved in domestic policies or sensitive national security issues, she said.

“It goes without saying that the law applies to former White House counsel Don McGahn, just as it does to other current and former senior-level White House officials,” she wrote.

That ruling could open a path for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — which is building a case for impeachment charges against Trump — to force testimony from three top witnesses: former US national security adviser John Bolton, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

All three are believed to have direct knowledge of Trump’s alleged demand that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky launch investigations into Trump’s Democratic rivals in exchange for a high-profile summit and much-needed military aid.

“To those witnesses who hide behind fallacious claims of absolute immunity, this ruling shows again how meritless their position remains,” intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff said in a statement.

The ruling could also give fresh life to the stalled impeachment case in the House Committee on the Judiciary, which has tried to develop charges against Trump for obstructing the Russian collusion investigation led by former US special counsel Robert Mueller.

Mueller’s final report in April outlined 10 acts of alleged obstruction by the president.

“Don McGahn is a central witness to allegations that President Trump obstructed special counsel Mueller’s investigation,” judiciary committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said in a statement.

“The administration’s claim that officials can claim ‘absolute immunity’ from congressional subpoenas has no basis in law, as the court recognized today,” he added.

However, testimony would not happen right away, as the US Department of Justice plans to appeal Jackson’s decision, department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said.

That could take the case to the US Supreme Court and, in the meantime, the department could seek a court stay to prevent McGahn or others from speaking before the two committees.

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