Editor’s Note: Ken Ballen was staff counsel to the House Iran-Contra committee. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN  — 

US District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled on Monday that former White House counsel Don McGahn must honor a House subpoena to testify.

Ken Ballen

The logic of Jackson’s sweeping ruling that White House aides must answer congressional subpoenas to testify applies to former national security adviser John Bolton’s possible testimony before the House Intelligence Committee as well.

“The primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings,” Jackson wrote. “This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control. Rather, in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the People of the United States, and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

This powerful decision should help clear the way for the House Intelligence Committee to obtain the testimony of Bolton, who has refused to testify until a court rules on the suit filed by his top deputy, Charles Kupperman that questions if a White House official can be forced by a House committee to testify. The case is currently in front of Judge Richard Leon in Washington who said that he wouldn’t hear arguments until December 10 and would rule later in December or early January.

While the committee has requested Bolton’s testimony, it is not currently pursuing a subpoena in court. With Jackson’s ruling, they should, immediately.

There is little doubt that Bolton could be a decisive witness. According to a letter that his attorney wrote to lawmakers, Bolton was “personally involved in many of the events, meetings and conversations” at the heart of the House impeachment inquiry, “as well as many relevant meetings and conversations” that have not been covered in testimony thus far.

Other administration officials have told congressional investigators that Bolton told them that he was determined not to get involved in what he referred to as a “drug deal” involving an effort to get Ukraine to take steps favoring President Trump politically.

Moreover, Bolton’s standing and position in Republican circles is head and shoulders above anyone else who has, or could, testify. His conservative reputation would make it difficult to dismiss his testimony in the way so many of the witnesses who have already testified have been denigrated by Trump and his supporters.

So why do the Democrats seem reluctant to pursue him?

The last investigation of similar scope of a Republican president and his administration by a Democratic Congress was the Iran-Contra Affair, when both the House and Senate launched a joint investigation in January 1987. Similar to the plan now the idea had been that the special committees created would investigate fully and, if the evidence warranted, present their findings to the House Judiciary Committee for articles of impeachment against President Ronald Reagan.

That all changed with the testimony of Lt. Col Oliver North. North successfully turned what had been until then a fact-based sober inquiry into a media circus. Wearing his Army uniform (and patriotism on his sleeve), and with unquestionable charisma, North gave a remarkable performance. He successfully became the victim simply by trying to do, as he portrayed it, the right thing as a patriot.

After North’s testimony, the Iran-Contra committees never regained their footing. Public opinion swung back in the President’s favor and at a meeting of the House Iran-Contra committee members, the goal of investigating Reagan further, never mind a possible impeachment, was summarily dropped.

No doubt the specter of a North like appearance by Bolton now makes the House Intelligence Committee gun-shy.

It shouldn’t.

While the effect of Bolton’s testimony is hard to gauge in advance, the House is much better off knowing what he has to say before articles of impeachment are considered rather than after.

If the testimony reveals deeper and incontrovertible involvement by Trump in the Ukraine quid pro quo – does not the country deserve to know?

If on the other hand, Bolton becomes the Oliver North of our times, would not Congress and the public be better off evaluating that fact before impeachment is considered by the House Judiciary Committee?

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    Chairman Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee wrote on Monday that he did not want the White House or witnesses running out the clock and delaying proceedings.

    Yet a delay of a month or more waiting for a court ruling should not dictate closing the inquiry when a witness as important as Bolton remains to be heard.

    The House should proceed now.

    The irony is that Judge Leon was a Republican counsel and my counterpart on the House Iran-Contra Committee.