Chilling news for White House: Counsel Don McGahn cooperated with Mueller

August 21, 2018

White House Counsel Don McGahn —who signed on with Donald Trump in 2015 as the lawyer for his long-shot presidential bid and remains with him to this day—has cooperated extensively with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to a dozen current and former administration officials and others briefed on the matter, The New York Times reported on August 18..

In an estimated 30-plus hours of voluntary interviews with the special counsel’s team over the past nine months, McGahn allegedly shared 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 the news outlet.

Reportedly, McGahn described the president’s fury toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which he urged his counsel to respond to it. He provided the investigators examining whether Trump has obstructed justice a clear view of the president’s most intimate moments with his lawyer.

Among them were the POTUS’s comments and actions during the firing of the F.B.I. Director  James B. Comey; as well as Trump’s obsession with putting a loyalist in charge of the inquiry, including his repeated urging of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to claim oversight of it. McGahn also was centrally involved in the president’s attempts to fire the special counsel, which investigators might not have discovered without him.

For a lawyer to share so much with investigators scrutinizing his client is unusual, the Times noted.  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.

A prosecutor would kill for that,” Solomon Wisenberg, a deputy independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation, told the Times. That probe  did not have the same level of cooperation from President Bill Clinton’s lawyers. “Oh my God, it would have been phenomenally helpful to us. It would have been like having the keys to the kingdom.”

McGahn’s cooperation began in part as a result of a decision by President Trump’s first team of criminal lawyers to collaborate fully with Mueller. The president’s lawyers have explained that they believed their client had nothing to hide and that they could bring the investigation to an end quickly.

McGahn and his own retained lawyer, William A. Burck, could not understand why the president was so willing to allow McGahn to speak freely to the special counsel—and feared Mr. Trump was setting up McGahn to take the blame for any possible illegal acts of obstruction, according to people close to him. So he and Burck devised their own strategy to do as much as possible to cooperate with Mueller, in order to demonstrate that McGahn did nothing wrong, the Times reports..

It is not clear that Mr. Trump appreciates the extent to which Mr. McGahn has cooperated with the special counsel. The president wrongly believed that  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.

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment for the  article.

Asked for comment, the White House sought to quell the sense of tension. “The president and Don have a great relationship,” the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement. “He appreciates all the hard work he’s done, particularly his help and expertise with the judges, and the Supreme Court” nominees.

The president stressed that the White House had been cooperative with the investigation, tweeting on August 18 after this article was published that McGahn had been allowed to speak to the special counsel:  “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!”

Research contact: @nytmike

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