White House attorney Don McGahn has been cooperating for several months with Robert Mueller’s investigation, according to a bombshell New York Times story that said he worried about becoming a scapegoat in the sweeping probe into possible collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
The Times wrote that McGahn, during 30 hours of interviews, is said to have shared details about “the president’s fury” about the special prosecutor’s probe, which also is looking into possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
The Times cited “a dozen current and former White House officials” for its report, which was published on its site late Saturday. It said McGahn has had at least three voluntary interviews with investigators from Mueller’s team over the past nine months.
The daily wrote that McGahn shared everything he knew with Mueller’s team, including “a sense of the president’s mind-set in the days leading to the firing of Mr. Comey; how the White House handled the firing of the former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn; and how Mr. Trump repeatedly berated Mr. Sessions, tried to get him to assert control over the investigation and threatened to fire him.”
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
Trump wrote about the article via Twitter on Saturday, acknowledging that McGahn had spoken to Mueller’s investigators with his permission.
He addressed the issue again Sunday in more heated tones, sending out early morning tweets attacking a “fake piece” in the “failing” New York Times and denouncing Mueller probe as “McCarthyism.”
The failing @nytimes wrote a Fake piece today implying that because White House Councel Don McGahn was giving hours of testimony to the Special Councel, he must be a John Dean type “RAT.” But I allowed him and all others to testify – I didn’t have to. I have nothing to hide……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2018
….and have demanded transparency so that this Rigged and Disgusting Witch Hunt can come to a close. So many lives have been ruined over nothing – McCarthyism at its WORST! Yet Mueller & his gang of Dems refuse to look at the real crimes on the other side – Media is even worse!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2018
“For a lawyer to share so much with investigators scrutinizing his client is unusual. Lawyers are rarely so open with investigators, not only because they are advocating on behalf of their clients but also because their conversations with clients are potentially shielded by attorney-client privilege, and in the case of presidents, executive privilege,” the newspaper wrote.
The extensive cooperation with Mueller’s team was the result of a strategic decision by Trump’s previous legal team to cooperate fully with the special prosecutor’s office, in the hope that the investigation could quickly be brought to a conclusion. Trump has since parted ways with those attorneys.
But according to The Times, which cited “people close” to McGahn, the White House attorney was also worried that the president was setting him up “to take the blame for any possible illegal acts of obstruction.” He and his personal attorney William Burck “devised their own strategy to do as much as possible to cooperate with Mr. Mueller to demonstrate that Mr. McGahn did nothing wrong,” the newspaper reported.
“Worried that Mr. Trump would ultimately blame him in the inquiry, Mr. McGahn told people he was determined to avoid the fate of the White House counsel for President Richard M. Nixon, John W. Dean, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Watergate scandal,” The Times wrote.
“Mr. McGahn decided to fully cooperate with Mr. Mueller. It was, he believed, the only choice he had to protect himself.”
Meanwhile, Trump appears to have been operating under the misconception that McGahn would act as his personal lawyer and represent his interests, when in fact, the role of the White House attorney is to represent the office of the US presidency — not any individual president.
“The president wrongly believed that Mr. McGahn would act as a personal lawyer would for clients and solely defend his interests to investigators, according to a person with knowledge of his thinking,” The Times wrote in its report.
News that he had cooperated with Mueller’s probe reverberated throughout Washington this weekend, as much for the speculation of increased political and legal jeopardy that McGahn’s cooperation could put the president in, as well as for the titillating new details about dysfunction within Trump’s White House.
The two men are reported to have a strained relationship. The mercurial president at times has so frustrated McGahn that he has taken to calling him “King Kong” behind his back, according to The Times, while Trump reportedly has frequently questioned McGahn’s loyalty.
The daily added that McGahn’s lawyer said in a statement that his client had little choice but to cooperate with the Mueller probe and said that the president did not try to impede that cooperation.
“President Trump, through counsel, declined to assert any privilege over Mr. McGahn’s testimony, so Mr. McGahn answered the special counsel team’s questions fulsomely and honestly, as any person interviewed by federal investigators must,” attorney William Burck said in his statement cited by The Times.
Speaking on Fox News late Saturday, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani dismissed the report in The Times as a ploy by the special prosecutor to trick the president into an interview.
“The best analysis would be that the Mueller team is panicking. They know they don’t have a case. There was no collusion, there was no obstruction,” Giuliani said on Fox News’ Justice w/Judge Jeanine program.
Giuliani suggested, in fact, that Mueller’s team had put out the story to get Trump to sit down with their investigators.
“They can’t prove it, and they are trying to get the president to testify,” Giuliani said. “And they are hoping that if they put out a story like this in which they suggest that McGhan is cooperating against him, but don’t say it…that he’ll want to come in and explain himself.”