World

Ex-White House counsel refuses to testify in Congress

WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives committee that would handle any impeachment of US President Donald Trump convened a hearing yesterday with another empty chair at the witness table, as former White House counsel Don McGahn refused to testify.

In a further escalation of a struggle between Mr Trump and Congress over its power to investigate him, the White House on Monday told Mr McGahn, who left his post in October, to disregard a subpoena from the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee subpoena to appear at the hearing.

The panel is investigating Mr Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's inquiry into Russian election meddling.

Attorney-General William Barr on May 2 also snubbed the committee, which later voted to hold him in contempt of Congress for not handing over an unredacted copy of Mr Mueller's final report.

At the hearing that Mr Barr skipped, an empty witness chair figured prominently and a Democratic committee member put a ceramic chicken on the table in front of it for the cameras.

There was no sign of a repeat chicken appearance yesterday.

Mr Trump and most fellow Republicans in Congress dismiss the inquiries as political harassment ahead of the 2020 elections.

But House Republican Justin Amash, a frequent Trump critic and outspoken Michigan conservative, said over the weekend that the President "has engaged in impeachable conduct".

Counterpunching in his usual style, Mr Trump told reporters on Monday outside the White House that Mr Amash is "a loser".

Any impeachment effort would begin in the House, led by the Judiciary Committee, before action in the Republican-led Senate on whether to remove Mr Trump from office.

Late on Monday, the Department of Justice issued a legal opinion saying Mr McGahn did not need to appear at the hearing, while Mr McGahn's lawyer, Mr William Burck, wrote that his client would not testify before the committee unless it reached an agreement with the White House.

In a letter sent to Mr McGahn, committee chairman Jerrold Nadler told the former White House counsel that he would "risk serious consequences" if he failed to show up to testify.

"Should you fail to do so, the committee is prepared to use all enforcement mechanisms at its disposal,"Mr Nadler wrote.

On another front, in a legal setback for Mr Trump, a US judge ruled against him in a case involving another House panel.

The House Oversight Committee has subpoenaed Mr Trump's financial records from his accounting firm Mazars.

In an unusual move, lawyers for Mr Trump and the Trump Organisation last month sued to try to block the subpoena.

US District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington ruled against Mr Trump and denied his request for a stay pending appeal.

Early yesterday, Mr Trump appealed the judge's ruling, challenging "all aspects" of Judge Mehta's decision. - REUTERS

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