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Why the deal for testimony from Trump's White House counsel matters

Don McGahn helped expose multiple alleged incidents of Trump obstructing justice. After a two-year delay, he'll now offer congressional testimony.
White House Counsel Don McGahn.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

This didn't generate as many headlines as expected, but Don McGahn's upcoming congressional testimony is likely to matter in ways that may not be entirely obvious at first glance.

Former White House counsel Don McGahn will answer questions in private from the House Judiciary Committee in an apparent resolution of a longstanding dispute over his testimony, according to a court document filed Wednesday evening. Democrats who run the committee have sought McGahn's testimony for two years as part of an investigation of potential obstruction of justice by former President Donald Trump during special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

After all this time, I imagine some readers are asking, "The name sounds familiar, but I've forgotten Don McGahn's significance." So, let's recap. (It'll take a minute, but stick with me because this is going somewhere.)

Congress first sought testimony from Don McGahn, Trump's first White House Counsel, about two years ago. Team Trump, true to form, fought against the subpoena, and there was no great mystery as to why.

McGahn was, for all intents and purposes, one of the star witnesses in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal. As we've discussed, the Republican lawyer spoke with investigators for dozens of hours, and in the redacted version of Mueller's report, the former White House counsel was cited more than 150 times.

In some of the episodes in which Trump allegedly obstructed justice, the claims of suspected criminal misconduct are based heavily on what McGahn told investigators.

Indeed, as the former special counsel's findings made clear, the former White House counsel very nearly resigned because the president directed him to "do crazy s**t," including an incident in which, according to McGahn, Trump pressed the lawyer to push the Justice Department to derail the investigation by getting rid of Mueller and creating a false document to cover that up.

Naturally, Democratic lawmakers were eager to hear more, so they subpoenaed McGahn. After a lengthy legal process, including multiple court rulings, he will testify, in private, before the House Judiciary Committee.

And right about now, some of you are wondering why in the world you should still care. After all, the Mueller probe ended two years ago this month; Trump is no longer in the White House; and no matter what McGahn tells Congress, the former president won't be impeached for a third time.

Trump could, however, face criminal prosecution.

Remember, the special counsel's investigation, relying heavily on McGahn, documented at least 10 specific instances in which Trump arguably committed felony obstruction of justice. It is the Justice Department's policy that a sitting president can't be prosecuted, so nothing came of those findings.

But Trump, obviously, is no longer in office, and as Rachel explained on last night's show, the statute of limitations has not expired on the former president's alleged misconduct.

Indeed, all of this dovetails nicely with a federal court ruling, which we learned about just last week, that then-Attorney General Bill Barr was "disingenuous" with a judge on the question of why Trump wasn't charged with obstruction of justice based on the evidence collected as part of the Mueller probe.

McGahn's closed-door congressional testimony hasn't yet been scheduled, but I have a hunch Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are looking forward to it. Watch this space.