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After 2-Year Legal Fight, Ex-Trump Aide Will Testify On Russia Investigation

Former White House counsel Don McGahn, seen here at a 2019 event, is set to testify Friday behind closed doors more than two years after the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed him.
Image credit: Alex Wong

Don McGahn, who served as former President Donald Trump’s first White House counsel and was a key witness for investigators during the Russia probe, is set to testify Friday before the House Judiciary Committee.

McGahn will sit down for a transcribed interview behind closed doors more than two years after the Democratic-led panel subpoenaed him for testimony about the Russia investigation and Trump’s possible obstruction of justice.

As White House counsel from January 2017 until October 2018, McGahn was in Trump’s inner circle for most of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.

McGahn provided critical testimony to Mueller’s team as a witness to several potential acts of obstruction by Trump, including his efforts to fire the special counsel.

Days after the redacted version of Mueller’s report was released to the public, the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed McGahn, with the panel’s chair, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., saying in a statement that McGahn’s testimony would “help shed further light on the President’s attacks on the rule of law, and his attempts to cover up those actions by lying to the American people and requesting others do the same.”

The Trump White House blocked McGahn from appearing, citing a Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion that asserts that senior presidential advisers enjoy absolute immunity from testifying before Congress.

The House Judiciary Committee filed suit in federal court to challenge that assertion and try to enforce its subpoena. That led to a lengthy legal battle that was resolved last month after the committee and the Biden Justice Department reached an accommodation, or agreement, to allow McGahn to testify.

Under the deal, McGahn will sit for a transcribed interview in private before committee members and staff. He will be allowed to have counsel with him, and an attorney from the Justice Department will be allowed to attend as well.

A transcript of the interview will be released afterwards.

The scope of the questions, however, is limited to information attributed to McGahn in the redacted version of Mueller’s report, and whether the report accurately reflected McGahn’s statements to the special counsel.

McGahn can refuse to answer questions outside of that narrow line of questioning, including queries about communications between McGahn and other administration officials that do not appear in the public version of Mueller’s report.

That limited scope raises questions about how much the committee and the American people will learn from McGahn’s interview beyond what’s already publicly known.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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