/White House to assert ‘immunity’ claims over ex-McGahn aide

White House to assert ‘immunity’ claims over ex-McGahn aide

Don McGahn

Annie Donaldson was the top deputy to former White House Counsel Don McGahn (above), who, according to Robert Mueller, was directed by President Donald Trump on several occasions to fire the special counsel. | Win McNamee/Pool Image via AP

The White House is expected to move to block former top aide Annie Donaldson from answering the House Judiciary Committee’s written questions about her tenure as White House deputy counsel, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Donaldson, who was a central witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, struck a deal with the committee that would allow her to submit written responses instead of showing up for her scheduled public testimony on Monday. Donaldson is pregnant and lives in Alabama, her attorney Sandra Moser said, adding that it’s difficult for her to travel to Washington at this time.

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Donaldson negotiated a deal with the committee that would require her to submit written answers within a week of receiving the questions. The committee is able to schedule in-person testimony after Nov. 1. CNN first reported the terms of the agreement.

But the White House, which has been involved in the negotiations, is expected to assert its claims that former aides have “absolute immunity” from testifying to Congress about their service in the White House, sources said. Democrats have said that claim is legally baseless and are vowing to defeat it in federal court. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Donaldson was served with a subpoena last month for documents and public testimony as part of the committee’s investigation into whether President Donald Trump obstructed Justice. She was the top deputy to former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who, according to Mueller, was directed by Trump on several occasions to fire the special counsel.

Donaldson provided Mueller’s investigators with voluminous contemporaneous notes detailing Trump’s efforts to thwart the special counsel’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Her notes documented a West Wing in chaos after Mueller was appointed, and after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

Earlier this month, the White House directed Donaldson and Hope Hicks, another former top Trump aide, to defy the committee’s subpoena seeking documents. Hicks testified behind closed doors before the Judiciary panel last week but White House lawyers lodged more than 150 objections to the committee’s questions. Nearly all of them centered on her tenure as White House communications director.

The Justice Department wrote a legal opinion last month to justify Trump’s directive to McGahn not to testify before the panel — a claim the committee is set to challenge in federal court in the coming days. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told POLITICO that a victory in the McGahn case could break the White House’s blockade for all other witnesses, including Hicks and Donaldson.

It is unclear whether the Justice Department will draft a new legal opinion about Donaldson’s testimony. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.