Presidents are not kings, says US judge

Updated: Nov 27, 2019, 08:40 IST | Agencies | Washington

US judge rebukes Trump for claiming that his ex-adviser Don McGahn was subject to blanket immunity, orders McGahn to testify in impeachment probe

Donald Trump; (right) file photo of US president's former legal adviser Don McGahn. Pics/AFP
Donald Trump; (right) file photo of US president's former legal adviser Don McGahn. Pics/AFP

Washington: Donald Trump's top aides must comply with subpoenas to appear in the impeachment probe against the president, a US federal judge ruled. In a case involving former White House counsel Don McGahn, who was subpoenaed in May by the House Judiciary Committee, appeals court judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled on Monday that administration officials cannot claim absolute immunity from testifying, as Trump had earlier claimed, according to CNN.

While Jackson ruled specifically on McGahn's case, she said 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.”

She said Congress has the power to subpoena any of the president's advisers, whether they are involved in domestic policies or sensitive national security issues. The ruling could open a path for the House Intelligence Committee — which is building a case for impeachment charges against Trump — to force testimony from three top witnesses: former national security adviser John Bolton, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“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. “The witnesses who have defied Congress at the behest of the president will have to decide if their duty is to the country, or to a president who believes that he is above the law.”

The ruling could also give fresh life to the stalled impeachment case in the Judiciary Committee, which has tried to develop charges against Trump for obstructing the Russian collusion probe led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller's final report in April outlined 10 acts of alleged obstruction by Trump. “Don McGahn is a central witness to allegations that Trump obstructed Mueller's probe,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said.

But testimony won't happen right away, as the Justice Department plans to appeal Jackson's decision. That could take the case to the 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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