Republicans, Democrats battle for high ground after McGahn testimony

After years of effort, congressional investigators finally got their chance Friday to grill former President Donald Trump’s White House counsel.

As the circuitous saga of Don McGahn’s testimony concluded, Republicans and Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee vied to declare victory — but the very heavily litigated journey has likely been much more significant than its ultimate result.

Rep. Jim Jordan, the panel’s top Republican, told reporters after the closed-doors interview that the Q&A session had been overtaken by events.

“The takeaway for me is, yesterday Jen Psaki at the White House said she doesn’t want to relitigate 17-month-old emails from Dr. Fauci, yet today we have House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee religitating the Mueller report,” he told reporters, according to C-SPAN.

Meanwhile, committee Democrats called Friday “a great day for Congressional oversight.”

Chair Jerry Nadler said McGahn testified “at length to an extremely dangerous period in our nation’s history,” and that by securing the testimony, “we have made clear that the executive branch must respect our subpoenas.”

“There is no such thing as so-called ‘absolute immunity’ from congressional testimony, and good congressional investigators will eventually secure their witness,” Nadler said in a statement Friday afternoon.

He added that two years was too long, and that the “Trump era has taught us that Congress can no longer depend on good faith cooperation with our committees.” He said he plans to advance legislation that will allow Congress to enforce their subpoenas in a more timely fashion.

In 2019, the committee subpoenaed McGahn to testify about Trump’s efforts to hamstring the Mueller probe. Mueller’s report detailed a host of ways in which Trump sought his firing, and many legal experts saw it as a detailed argument for charging Trump with obstruction of justice. But in deference to a longstanding internal DOJ rule barring the indictment of sitting presidents, Mueller didn’t recommend such charges be brought. The attorney general at the time, Bill Barr, announced Trump would not face charges.

Many Democrats saw the outcome as a travesty. And they sought to hear from McGahn, the chief witness of Trump’s efforts to stop Mueller’s probe. But during the Trump administration, the Justice Department argued energetically against McGahn’s testimony. The litigation dragged on until this year, when the Justice Department — now under the leadership of President Joe Biden’s appointees — cut a deal with congressional Democrats and McGahn to allow his testimony, The New York Times reported.

The committee has said it will release a transcript within seven days following the closed-doors appearance.

McGahn’s testimony comes as criminal probes relating to the former president and his associates have been gaining steam. In April, FBI agents raided the apartment and office of Trump’s former personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. They also seized the cell phone of another lawyer close to Trump, Victoria Toensing.

Meanwhile, New York’s attorney general announced that the probe of the Trump Organization had become a criminal investigation. Letitia James’ office reportedly sent lawyers to embed with Manhattan’s district attorney, who is also running a criminal investigation related to the president’s businesses. The district attorney has used a grand jury as part of that probe.

At the same time, Trump has cemented his place as de facto leader of the Republican Party. Last month, congressional Republicans removed Rep. Liz Cheney from leadership because of her continued criticism of the president for repeatedly lying about the outcome of the 2020 election. Trump is slated to speak at the North Carolina Republican Party’s convention this weekend.

Myah Ward contributed to this report.

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