'Presidents are not kings' judge's stinging rebuke of Donald Trump

26 November 2019, 07:54

District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson made the ruling on Monday
District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson made the ruling on Monday. Picture: US District Court / PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

A federal judge has ruled White House staff can be compelled to testify before Congress in the Russian interference hearings, rejecting immunity claims from the Trump Administration.

The ruling comes after the House Judiciary Committee attempted to subpoena former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify in hearings investigating claims of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

Congress wanted Mr McGhan to answer questions about President Trump's attempts to impede the now-concluded Mueller investigation.

Mr McGhan, who left his role within the Trump administration in October 2018, refused to attend.

Don McGahn failed to attend a hearing
Don McGahn failed to attend a hearing. Picture: PA

"However busy or essential a presidential aide might be, and whatever their proximity to sensitive domestic and national-security projects, the President does not have the power to excuse him or her from taking an action that the law requires," District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote.

"Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings," Jackson said.

Current and former White House officials have been directed, by the Trump administration, to defy subpoenas and the White House has made claims that senior White House aides had absolute immunity from testifying.

Don McGahn will be compelled to speak to Congress
Don McGahn will be compelled to speak to Congress. Picture: PA

The Justice Department has said it would appeal the ruling, which has knock-on implications for the on-going impeachment inquiry, as Mr Trump has used similar claims to prevent administration officials from testifying citing presidential immunity.

But Judge Jackson disagreed with the claims, in a move seen as a rebuke to the White House she said: "No one is above the law."

"Executive branch officials are not absolutely immune from compulsory congressional process - no matter how many times the executive branch has asserted as much over the years - even if the president expressly directs such officials' noncompliance," she wrote.

The ruling specifically compels former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify in the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

The White House has claimed senior officials have presidential immunity
The White House has claimed senior officials have presidential immunity. Picture: US Govt

Judge Jackson also said the president "does not have the power" to stop his aides from responding to subpoenas from Congress, adding that "presidents are not kings."

"No one, not even the head of the Executive branch, is above the law," Judge Jackson said.

But she did say that Mr McGahn could invoke executive privilege "where appropriate", to protect potentially sensitive information.

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