The Justice Department asked a federal judge Tuesday to stop former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying in the House Democrats’ impeachment probe of President Trump.
A delay of the court order requiring him to face the inquiry would put on hold testimony Democrats believe would shed light on White House obstruction of justice.
Mr. McGahn was a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Trump-Russia collusion.
Justice Department lawyers said there is no reason to rush Mr. McGahn’s testimony while an appeals court mulls Mr. Trump’s claim that his aides are immune from a congressional subpoena.
“If the order is not stayed and Mr. McGahn must appear before the committee, then the claim of immunity will have been ‘effectively lost,’ ” the lawyers wrote in their 11-page filing.
If granted, the decision would pause the Democrats’ efforts to hear from other top officials, including former national security adviser John R. Bolton and his deputy, Charles Kupperman.
Mr. Bolton has said he would not appear before Congress without a court order, while Mr. Kupperman has asked a separate federal judge to rule on whether he can testify.
The filing followed a ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson that Mr. McGahn must testify, rejecting the Trump administration’s claim that current and former officials have “absolute immunity” from congressional subpoenas.
Judge Jackson, an Obama appointee, scolded Mr. Trump’s efforts to block congressional investigators by directing aides not to testify.
“Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that presidents are not kings,” she wrote.
In their appeal Tuesday, the department insisted presidential advisers are immune from congressional subpoenas. Justice Department lawyers said no federal appeals court has decided the issue.
“On an issue of this importance to the nation, it plainly serves the public interest to have the issues raised in this case resolved by an appellate tribunal,” they wrote.
The next step would be an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters Tuesday that Judge Jackson’s decision may not survive an appeal.
“This is one judge, an Obama-appointed judge,” Mrs. Conway said, adding that the ruling “may not be sustainable.”
Mr. Trump tweeted on Tuesday that he would “love” to have Mr. McGahn and other high-ranking administration officials testify, but he’s “fighting for future Presidents and the Office of the President.”
“Future Presidents should in no way be compromised,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “What has happened to me should never happen to another President!”
He tweeted his critics “are reading far too much into people being forced by Courts to testify before Congress.”
“I would actually like people to testify. Don McGahn [is a] respected lawyer has already stated that I did nothing wrong,” he tweeted. “Likewise, I would love to have Mike Pompeo, Rick Perry, Mick Mulvaney and many others testify about the phony Impeachment Hoax. It is a Democrat Scam that is going nowhere …”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, asked by a reporter Tuesday if he would testify in the impeachment inquiry, replied, “When the time is right, all good things happen.”