Will McGahn get Trump into more trouble over obstruction of justice?
White House lawyer Don McGahn is cooperating extensively with the Trump-Russia investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, raising the possibility that he is contributing to the inquiry’s pursuit of obstruction of justice charges against Trump.
The New York Times, drawing on “a dozen current and former White House officials and others briefed on the matter”, describes at least three voluntary interviews of McGahn by investigators over the last nine months. In 30 hours of discussions, McGahn described Trump’s invocations on how to handle the inquiry as well as Trump’s fury over the ongoing collection of evidence by Mueller’s team.
Cases include Trump’s attempt to limit investigation of his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; firing of FBI James Comey in May 2017, in an unsuccessful attempt to halt the investigation; repeated attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from oversight of the inquiry; and attempt to fire Mueller, rebuffed by McGahn.
Lawyers are rarely open with investigators because of attorney-client privilege and, for Presidents, executive privilege. But McGahn and his lawyer are reportedly worried that Trump was setting up his White House counsel as a scapegoat for any Mueller findings of obstruction of justice.
Sources said McGahn told people that he had to avoid the fate of the White House counsel for President Richard Nixon, John Dean, who pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy to obstruct justice during Watergate.
“A person with knowledge of his thinking” said Trump miscalculated, believing McGahn would act as a personal lawyer and limit himself to defending Trump’s interests.
While giving details of Trump’s behavior and actions, McGahn has been careful to say that he never saw Trump go beyond his legal authority. “A person with direct knowledge of McGahn’s legal strategy” told CNN that he did not “agree with the insinuation in the article that Don provided incriminating information about Trump. He just told the truth as he was required to.”
After the Times published its article, Trump tried to claim credit for McGahn’s cooperation with Mueller:
I allowed White House Counsel Don McGahn, and all other requested members of the White House Staff, to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel. In addition we readily gave over one million pages of documents. Most transparent in history. No Collusion, No Obstruction. Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 18, 2018
The White House played down any difficulties for Trump from McGahn’s testimony. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “The President and Don have a great relationship. He appreciates all the hard work he’s done.”