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Appeals court tosses subpoena for former Trump White House lawyer McGahn

The ruling is a win for President Donald Trump, whose administration has fought subpoenas.
File: U.S. President Donald Trump's Second Year In The Oval Office
Don McGahn, then the White House counsel, arrives for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington on Sept. 27, 2018.Aaron P. Bernstein / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court ruled Monday that a House committee has no authority to sue President Donald Trump's former White House counsel for refusing to testify, a victory for the Trump administration in its fight with Congress over access to current and former administration officials.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia voted 2-1 to toss out a lawsuit brought by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee after the former official, Don McGahn, refused to testify about how the White House responded to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

House Judiciary Democrats said they wanted McGahn to testify about actions by Trump that Mueller's report said could constitute obstruction of justice. After McGahn declined to respond to a voluntary request for documents, the committee issued a subpoena, describing him as "the most important witness, other than the President, to the key events that are the focus of the Judiciary Committee's investigation."

The appeals court said Congress has never given individual committees the legal power to file lawsuits like the one against McGahn.

"We note that this decision does not preclude Congress (or one of its chambers) from ever enforcing a subpoena in federal court," the ruling said. "It simply precludes it from doing so without first enacting a statute authorizing such a suit."