A federal judge has ordered Don McGahn to appear before Congress in a setback to President Donald Trump’s effort to keep his top aides from testifying. Picture: Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP, File

Washington - U.S. Justice Department lawyers asked a judge on Tuesday to put on hold a ruling that would require former White House Counsel Don McGahn to comply with a congressional subpoena to testify in a legal battle that could have implications for the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration's court filing asked for the delay while it pursues an appeal a day after U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson rejected its legal claim that current and former senior White House officials cannot be compelled to testify before Congress.

The administration has not only blocked officials from testifying to lawmakers but has refused to provide requested documents to Democratic congressional investigators on a wide range of topics, claiming broad immunity.

Trump, writing on Twitter, said he would "love" to let top officials testify, but added, "It is a Democrat Scam that is going nowhere but, future Presidents should in no way be compromised."

The Justice Department, representing McGahn in his former official capacity, said in a court filing that the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, which is seeking the testimony, has agreed to a seven-day temporary delay. If the judge does not immediately impose that delay, McGahn would file an emergency application at the federal appeals court in Washington on Wednesday, the administration lawyers said.

McGahn, who left his post in October 2018, last May defied a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee to testify about Trump's efforts to impede the now-completed special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. The subpoena was issued months before the Democratic-led House opened its impeachment inquiry into Trump's actions concerning Ukraine.

The Justice Department lawyers wrote that Monday's ruling was only the second in U.S. history requiring a senior presidential adviser to testify before Congress and that the dispute raises "significant and difficult separation-of-powers questions." Separation of powers is a term that refers to the U.S. Constitution assigning different authority to the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the U.S. government.

McGahn's personal lawyer said on Monday that he would comply with the subpoena if it is not blocked.

The judge's ruling could give other former and current administration officials, like former White House national security adviser John Bolton, a legal basis for cooperating with the impeachment inquiry, according to legal experts.

If the Justice Department's request for a longer pause is granted, then the dispute over presidential powers will not be decided for months and during that time McGahn would not have to testify.

The committee sued McGahn in August to try to enforce the subpoena.

Reuters