Black Federal Judge Strikes Crucial Blow Against Trump's 'Absolute Immunity' Claims: 'Presidents Are Not Kings'

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In a ruling late Monday, Federal District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said former White House counsel Don McGahn must obey a subpoena to testify before Congress. The subpoena, issued in April, came from the House Judiciary Committee as part of its investigation into possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

As NBC News reports, in her decision, Jackson also rejected a key argument put forward by the Justice Department in defense of the administration—that as a former close adviser to the president, McGahn is absolutely immune to demands he appear before Congress.

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From NBC News:

“It is clear to this Court for the reasons explained above that, with respect to senior-level presidential aides, absolute immunity from compelled congressional process simply does not exist,” Jackson said in her ruling.

“Presidents are not kings,” she added.

“This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control,” Jackson said. “Rather, in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the people of the United States...”

McGahn, however, can “invoke executive privilege where appropriate” during his testimony, the judge said.

If you’re confused about where in the Trump’s administration carousel of crazy McGahn fits, don’t worry—April of this year might as well be four years ago in Trump-time.

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House Judiciary Democrats wanted McGahn to testify and turn over documents related to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Mueller’s report indicated that Trump ordered McGahn to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, “Mueller has to go.”

From an earlier NBC News report:

“McGahn spoke with the President twice and understood the directive the same way both times, making it unlikely that he misheard or misinterpreted the President’s request. In response to that request, McGahn decided to quit,” the report said. “He called his lawyer, drove to the White House, packed up his office, prepared to submit a resignation letter with his chief of staff, (and) told (then-White House Chief of Staff Reince) Priebus that the President had asked him to ‘do crazy shit.’

“McGahn ultimately did not quit and the President did not follow up with McGahn on his request to have the Special Counsel removed,” the report said.

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Lawyers advocating on behalf of the House Judiciary Democrats urged Judge Jackson to make a decision quickly since the group wants to hold its own impeachment hearings, separate from the five-day hearings recently concluded by the House Intelligence Committee.

The Justice Department said it will appeal Jackson’s ruling and seek a stay of her order. But while White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham indicated that the DOJ was “confident” the administration’s absolute immunity position would be vindicated, NBC News points out that no court has ever upheld the argument that close advisers to the president can’t be forced to appear before Congress.

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If history is any indication, McGahn, girl: You better shine your shoes, pop some vitamin B, and get Fenty-ready for the cameras, because you’re testifying.

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About the author

Anne Branigin

Staff writer, The Root. Sometimes I blog slow, sometimes I blog quick. Do you have this in coconut?