Constitutional Law

White House tells Congress it’s not entitled to documents from former counsel McGahn

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Don McGahn

White House counsel Don McGahn. Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that documents subpoenaed from his predecessor, Don McGahn, are protected from disclosure.

Cipollone told the committee in a letter that the documents are legally protected “under longstanding constitutional principles, because they implicate significant executive branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege.”

The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and CNN have coverage.

The White House has directed McGahn not to produce the records, many of which relate to possible obstruction of justice by the president, McGahn’s lawyer, William Burck, told the committee in another letter Tuesday. McGahn will “maintain the status quo unless” an accommodation is reached, Burck’s letter said.

McGahn “continues to owe certain duties and obligations to the president which he is not free to disregard,” Burck wrote.

McGahn was prominently featured in the report by special counsel Robert Mueller. The report said President Donald Trump directed McGahn to tell Department of Justice officials to remove Mueller for conflicts of interest and then pressured McGahn to dispute press reports about the episode. Trump also told McGahn to stop then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the investigation, the report said.

Democrats argue that the subpoenaed records lost the shield of executive privilege when the president allowed McGahn to share the documents with his lawyer and to discuss them with Mueller. They also have subpoenaed McGahn to testify before the House Judiciary Committee May 21.

The records controversy comes amid several disputes between congressional committees and the executive branch, the New York Times reported Monday. Attorney General William Barr has refused to comply with a subpoena to turn over a full, unredacted version of the Mueller report along with underlying evidence. And the Department of the Treasury has refused a request for Trump’s tax returns.

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