Federal court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson held that former White House counsel Donald McGahn must appear before Congress pursuant to a lawful subpoena, rejecting President Trump’s entirely unmeritorious claim of absolute immunity.

Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me, “Judge Jackson rightly and predictably rejected Trump’s extreme claim that McGahn is absolutely immune from having to testify in response to a valid House subpoena. The tough issues of executive privilege and national security secrets remain. She followed the precedent set by a respected conservative judge, John Bates. And she ruled in accord with basic principles of the rule of law.”

In a stinging opinion, Jackson wrote:

The arguments that DOJ advances to support its claim of absolute testimonial immunity for senior-level presidential aides transgress core constitutional truths (notwithstanding OLC’s persistent heralding of these and similar propositions). By contrast, textbook constitutional law readily reveals that, precisely because the Constitution bestows upon the Judiciary the power to demarcate the boundaries of lawful conduct by government officials, the federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction to entertain subpoena enforcement disputes concerning legislative subpoenas that have been issued to Executive branch officials.

She continues, “It is similarly well established that, because the Constitution vests the Legislature with the power to investigate potential abuses of official authority—when necessary to hold government officials (up to, and including, the President) accountable, as representatives of the People of the United States—then House committees have both Article III standing and a cause of action to pursue judicial enforcement of their duly authorized and legally enforceable requests for information.”

Furthermore, the court tersely reminded the Justice Department that the same issue was decided in a case involving former White House counsel Harriet Miers.

Luckily for this Court, an existing precedent that is on all fours with the instant matter (Miers) already systematically dismantles the edifice that DOJ appears to have erected over the years to enshrine the proposition that a President’s senior-level aides have absolute immunity with respect to legislative subpoenas that Congress issues in the course of its investigations; Miers does this by squarely refuting each of the threshold and merits arguments that DOJ seeks to advance in the instant case.

For obvious reasons Trump would like the courts to stay out of his disputes with Congress. That’s not happening, as Jackson made clear. “The Framers made clear that the proper functioning of a federal government that is consistent with the preservation of constitutional rights hinges just as much on the intersectionality of the branches as it does on their separation, and it is the assigned role of the Judiciary to exercise the adjudicatory power prescribed to them under the Constitution’s framework to address the disputed legal issues that are spawned from the resulting friction.” The courts make the final call, not Trump or his lawyer.

She therefore concluded:

To make the point as plain as possible, it is clear to this Court for the reasons explained above that, with respect to senior-level presidential aides, absolute immunity from compelled congressional process simply does not exist. Indeed, absolute testimonial immunity for senior-level White House aides appears to be a fiction that has been fastidiously maintained over time through the force of sheer repetition in OLC opinions, and through accommodations that have permitted its proponents to avoid having the proposition tested in the crucible of litigation. And because the contention that a President’s top advisors cannot be subjected to compulsory congressional process simply has no basis in the law. … The invocation of the privilege by a testifying aide is an order of magnitude different than DOJ’s current claim that the President essentially owns the entirety of a senior-level aide’s testimony such that the White House can order the individual not to appear before Congress at all.

It is rare that a federal court so thoroughly and emphatically slaps down the government’s case. However, it is even rarer, indeed, unprecedented for a president to assert he is above the law.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) heralded the decision. “I am pleased the court has recognized that the Trump Administration has no grounds to withhold critical witness testimony from the House during its impeachment inquiry,” he said in a written statement. “Don McGahn is a central witness to allegations that President Trump obstructed Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, and the Administration’s claim that officials can claim ‘absolute immunity’ from Congressional subpoenas has no basis in law, as the court recognized today.” He added, “Now that the court has ruled, I expect him to follow his legal obligations and promptly appear before the Committee.”

Former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller tells me that the opinion “gives the House much more leverage to police misconduct in the administration for as long as Trump is president, and it makes crystal clear that John Bolton should follow the example of his deputies and show up and testify.”

The decision is likely to be appealed, but it gives the House new authority and leverage to compel testimony. The court’s decision does not preclude assertions of privilege once witnesses show up, but it does require that they at least do that. It is time for Trump’s most senior advisers to respond to Congress and tell us what they know. If not a game changer, this ruling certainly may impact the strategy and extent of the House’s inquiry.

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