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Former White House counsel Donald McGahn arrives Friday to meet with the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Former White House counsel Donald McGahn on Friday detailed for the House Judiciary Committee how former President Donald Trump attempted to stymie a federal probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election – bombshell revelations that might once have fueled additional impeachment charges, were they not already public and had it not taken more than two years for Democrats to secure his testimony.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., refused to discuss McGahn’s testimony during the closed-door interview, saying only that the terms of their discussion strictly limited its focus to the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller III, who led the Russia investigation. Nadler departed the interview after about six hours, though it had not yet concluded.

The committee’s top Republican, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, decried the session as “relitigating the Mueller report” and a waste of time. Added panel member Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.: “We’ve learned nothing new.”

“The expectation was that Don McGahn would be some sort of essential witness bringing new information worthy of years of litigation and countless taxpayer dollars spent on this endeavor,” Gaetz told reporters. “Mr. McGahn is unable to identify anything unlawful on the part of the president or any other member of the president’s administration.”

The committee first asked to interview McGahn in 2019, after the release of Mueller’s report. McGahn was the most-cited witness in that document, explaining how Trump had tried to have Mueller fired and then asked aides to lie about it.

Democrats and many legal scholars seized on McGahn’s disclosures as evidence of possible obstruction of justice, a crime. The Trump White House sought to keep McGahn muzzled, claiming his proximity to the president granted him “absolute immunity” from congressional summons.

A legal battle over the enforcement of Congress’s subpoena for McGahn’s testimony played out in federal court for two years before the Democratic-controlled House reached a deal with the Biden administration to bring in McGahn for Friday’s transcribed interview.

But that bargain, struck last month, has been widely criticized as a retreat by the House, which abandoned its legal fight before it reached the Supreme Court and never secured a definitive ruling that it is mandatory to obey a congressional subpoena – which might have helped avoid similar conflicts in the future.

Last year, House Democrats unveiled legislation to accelerate the timelines under which the courts consider cases involving congressional subpoenas, as part of a broader package of reforms to better prevent presidential abuses of power. That legislation is currently the subject of discussions with the White House, and is expected to be revisited in the House.

“Congress has to be respected with its subpoena and oversight responsibilities. … Today we asserted that right,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, told reporters Friday, defending Democrats’ insistence on interviewing McGahn.

When asked if he revealed any new information, she too indicated there was little that was not already known, stating that McGahn “reasserted” what was in the Mueller report and offered some insights about “his assessment of his role” in the special counsel’s probe.


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