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US House panel sues to compel ex-White House counsel McGahn's testimony
[WASHINGTON] The Democratic-led US House Judiciary Committee asked a federal court on Wednesday to compel former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify about President Donald Trump's alleged efforts to impede the federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
In a lawsuit filed in US District Court in Washington, the committee insisted that Mr McGahn's testimony is needed to decide whether to recommend the impeachment of the Republican president over actions that Democrats view as criminal attempts to obstruct then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller's 22-month investigation.
"McGahn ... is the most important witness, other than the president, to the key events that are the focus of the Judiciary Committee's investigation," the lawsuit said.
The move represented the latest step toward impeachment by Democrats in the House of Representatives, who last week cited their impeachment drive in a court petition seeking access to Mr Mueller's grand jury evidence.
Democrats predicted that the lawsuit, if successful, would dismantle a White House strategy to stonewall congressional probes by directing current and former Trump aides including Mr McGahn not to testify or provide documents to investigators.
But the action, which comes as the political focus of many House lawmakers pivots toward the 2020 elections, could take months to resolve. In the suit, the committee urged quick action by the court, warning that its inquiries will end with the current Congress.
Mr McGahn emerged as the star witness in the 448-page Mueller report released in April, but he defied a committee subpoena to testify a month later after the White House directed him not to cooperate with the panel.
"The Judiciary Committee is now determining whether to recommend articles of impeachment," the lawsuit said. "But it cannot fulfill this most solemn constitutional responsibility without hearing testimony from a crucial witness to these events: former White House Counsel Donald F McGahn II."
Articles of impeachment represent a formal accusation of misconduct that would require 218 votes to pass the 435-member House. If the House approved an impeachment resolution against Mr Trump, it would be up to the Republican-controlled Senate to hold a trial and possibly remove him from office.
Democrats said Mr McGahn could deliver devastating testimony against Mr Trump, similar to the testimony against former President Richard Nixon by then-White House Counsel John Dean during the Watergate era.
"Don McGahn is Donald Trump's John Dean," said a Democratic lawyer for the committee.
Mr McGahn told Mr Mueller's investigation team that Mr Trump pressed him repeatedly to have the special counsel removed and then to deny that he had been instructed to do so. Democrats said Mr McGahn could also testify about alleged efforts by Mr Trump to pressure then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to redirect the Russia probe away from his 2016 campaign, as well as White House discussions surrounding the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Mr Mueller's investigation found numerous contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign but did not establish enough evidence to prove that a conspiracy occurred. On obstruction, Mr Mueller did not determine whether Mr Trump committed a crime but also did not exonerate the president.
Russia has denied meddling in the election and Mr Trump has repeatedly criticised the Mueller probe, calling it a "witch hunt."