Written by Nicholas Fandos
The House Judiciary Committee reached a deal with a key source of information for Robert Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation that will allow her to delay public testimony that had been scheduled for Monday but require her to answer written questions as the committee waits.
Democrats who control the committee said they were willing to take those steps because the witness, Annie Donaldson, is in her third trimester of pregnancy and lives in Alabama. They said she would still be required to testify in person in the coming months before the committee, which is investigating whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice when he tried to thwart the special counsel’s examination of his campaign’s ties to Russia.
The White House is expected to intervene to try to block Donaldson, a former White House lawyer, from answering any questions about her government service. The White House will most likely cite a Justice Department opinion that close aides to the president have “absolute immunity” from congressional subpoenas.
The House, in turn, is preparing to file a lawsuit as early as next week to try to get the federal courts to strike down the administration’s immunity theory, which has been advanced by presidents of both parties but has never been fully tested in court. Even though the suit will probably take aim at Donaldson’s former boss, one-time White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II, a ruling in the Democrats’ favour could effectively force Donaldson and other witnesses who have defied the Judiciary Committee to take the witness stand.
Donaldson, as chief of staff to McGahn, witnessed or was privy to some of the most explosive moments detailed by Mueller’s investigators, including the firing of James Comey as FBI director and attempts by Trump to gain control of the investigation. Donaldson kept detailed notes of those episodes and others, which are referenced frequently in Mueller’s 448-page report.
A lawyer for Donaldson, Sandra Moser, said she was pleased with the accommodation.
Under the terms of her accord with the Judiciary Committee, Donaldson agreed to appear in person to testify sometime after Nov. 1 and will provide written answers to lawmakers’ questions in the meantime. The committee will most likely deliver those questions this week, a committee aide said. The White House, which declined to comment Monday, could intervene thereafter.
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