“Let me be clear: this committee will hear Mr. McGahn’s testimony, even if we have to go to court to secure it,” Rep. Nadler (D-N.Y.) said.
The White House asserted executive privilege ahead of the hearing and told McGahn not to testify.
“Mr. McGahn has a legal obligation to be here for this scheduled appearance,” Nadler said. “If he does not immediately correct his mistake, this committee will have no choice but to enforce this subpoena against him.”
With the witness chair empty, the committee adjourned after roughly 30 minutes.
Republicans criticized the hearing and the subpoena, accusing Democrats of abusing congressional oversight powers to score political points.
“Some of my Democrat colleagues here may believe the witness can provide damaging information against the president, but that isn’t a reason to bring somebody to testify,” said committee ranking member Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.).
“There is no legitimate legislative purpose here; it’s about embarrassing and harassing the president.”
McGahn played the central role in what some Democrats interpret as the most damning episode described in the obstruction of justice section of the final report by special counsel Robert Mueller. The special counsel didn’t file obstruction-of-justice charges. Mueller also didn’t find evidence to establish that Trump colluded with Russia.
The House Judiciary Committee faced another empty chair two weeks earlier, on May 2, when Attorney General William Barr refused to appear for testimony. The committee later voted to recommend that the full House hold Barr in contempt for defying a subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report.
Republicans in Congress dismiss the committee inquiries as a political power play ahead of the 2020 elections. Democrats appear poised to use the various instances of resistance by the White House to make a case for impeachment.
On May 18, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan became the first Republican to call for the president’s impeachment. No other Republican has followed suit. Trump called Amash a “lightweight” and a “loser.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the top Democrat in Congress, told MSNBC on May 21 that Amash’s statement doesn’t mean there is more pressure on the House to begin impeachment.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told CNN on May 21 that the case for launching the impeachment process, which would give Democrats more leverage to compel testimony and obtain documents, “gets stronger the more they stonewall the Congress.”
After gaining control of the House of Representatives during the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats repeatedly have used congressional oversight powers to investigate Trump. Various Democrat-led committees have opened 10 congressional investigations to date, targeting Trump, his children, and White House officials.
“Why are the Democrats not looking into all of the crimes committed by Crooked Hillary and the phony Russia Investigation? They would get back their credibility,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Jerry Nadler, Schiff, would have a whole new future open to them. Perhaps they could even run for President!”
Reuters contributed to this report.