A federal judge has ruled that White House staff can be made to testify before Congress, rejecting the Trump administration’s claims of immunity.
The ruling specifically compels former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify to an inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
But it also has major implications for the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.
The justice department says it will appeal against the ruling.
The impeachment inquiry is trying to establish whether Mr Trump pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival Joe Biden. The Trump administration has refused to co-operate with the impeachment inquiry and other Democrat-led investigations, directing current and former White House officials to defy subpoenas for testimony and documents.
Mr McGahn, who left his post in October 2018, was called to appear before the House Judiciary Committee in May to answer questions about the president’s alleged attempts to impede the now-concluded Mueller investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
But in her ruling, US District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said that “no one is above the law”.
“Executive branch officials are not absolutely immune from compulsory congressional process – no matter how many times the executive branch has asserted as much over the years – even if the president expressly directs such officials’ noncompliance,” she wrote.
Judge Jackson also explicitly said the president “does not have the power” to stop his aides from responding to subpoenas from Congress – adding that “presidents are not kings”.
“No one, not even the head of the Executive branch, is above the law,” Judge Jackson said.
But she did say that Mr McGahn could invoke executive privilege “where appropriate”, to protect potentially sensitive information.
Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said that he expects Mr McGahn to “follow his legal obligations and promptly appear before the Committee”.
“Presidents are not kings.” Those words from a 120-page decision by US District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson are likely to be repeated like a mantra by Democrats in Congress. With members seeking to impeach President Trump for obstructing their impeachment inquiry by blocking witnesses and discovery, the timing and language of the opinion could not have been better. -BBC