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Judge temporarily halts order for ex-White House official to testify

CBS News logo CBS News 11/27/2019 Kathryn Watson
Don McGahn wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera © Drew Angerer / Getty Images Don McGahn

Washington — In a case that could have implications for the impeachment inquiry, a federal judge temporarily halted her own decision on Wednesday that would have forced former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify before Congress.

Her seven-day stay will allow the court to review the Justice Department's request to stop the order from taking effect as it pursues an appeal.

On Monday, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ordered McGahn to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, striking a blow to the White House, which claims that President Trump's senior advisers have "absolute immunity" from congressional subpoenas. 

"Executive branch officials are not absolutely immune from compulsory congressional process ... even if the President expressly directs such officials' non-compliance," Jackson wrote at the time. "The primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that presidents are not kings."

The Justice Department appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. 

Don McGahn wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera: Former White House Counsel Don McGahn © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Former White House Counsel Don McGahn

McGahn, the former top White House attorney, was a key player in the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Former special counsel Robert Mueller's report revealed instances when Mr. Trump might have obstructed justice. For instance, the president asked McGahn to fire Mueller, a claim Mr. Trump has denied. 

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The outcome of McGahn's case could have implications for the impeachment inquiry against Mr. Trump, which has moved to the House Judiciary Committee. It could set a precedent for whether presidential aides, including former aides, must comply with congressional subpoenas. More than a dozen current and former Trump officials refused to testify in the impeachment hearings, per White House orders.

The House Judiciary Committee said it would offer a "courtesy" to McGahn and not oppose the seven-day stay.

It's unclear how long McGahn's case will take to be decided by the appellate court. 

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