Here’s how the Times story began:
“The White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, has cooperated extensively in the special counsel investigation, sharing detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice, including some that investigators would not have learned of otherwise, according to a dozen current and former White House officials and others briefed on the matter.”
It is highly unusual for a lawyer to talk openly with prosecutors during an ongoing investigation. One thing to keep in mind is that McGahn is not the president’s personal attorney and is not a criminal defense attorney. He is the “White House Counsel” which means his client is literally the White House. This means there is no attorney-client privilege between McGahn and anyone else, including the president, and as a result McGahn was free to talk openly with Mueller’s team.
According to the Times, McGahn discussed accounts of several different White House events which have been at the center of Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling and also into whether or not President Trump obstructed justice by interfering in that probe. They wrote:
“In at least three voluntary interviews with investigators that totaled 30 hours over the past nine months, Mr. McGahn described the president’s fury toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which he urged Mr. McGahn to respond to it. He provided the investigators examining whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice a clear view of the president’s most intimate moments with his lawyer.”
McGahn reportedly discussed with prosecutors Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey and the president’s repeated pressuring of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to get involved in shutting down the special counsel investigation even though he had recused himself from the Russia probe.
McGahn’s cooperation with Mueller began last year after Trump’s personal lawyers at the time made the decision to give investigators as much information as possible. He was operating under the assumption that the president had nothing to hide, he said.
However, the Times reported that McGahn later had many concerns about his personal exposure in the investigation. They said that he began to get nervous and was afraid that the president was “setting him up to take the fall” for obstruction of justice charges that might eventually be levied.
McGahn then consulted with his own lawyer William Burck, and they decided that the White House counsel should work on his own to cooperate with Mueller, as a way to reduce any risk he might have of later being charged with any crimes.
Trump responded to the report on Saturday, tweeting that he had “allowed” McGahn to work 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!”
Responding to the Times story White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said:
“The president and Don have a great relationship. He appreciates all the hard work he’s done, particularly his help and expertise with the judges, and the Supreme Court.”
Richard Nixon’s White House counsel John Dean said Saturday that he thought McGahn was doing the right thing. Dean had also been afraid that he would be a scapegoat for Watergate and was eventually fired by Nixon. After seeing the Times story Dean tweeted “McGahn is doing right!”
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.
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