Before and after the release of the redacted Mueller Report, former White House counsel Don McGahn declined at least two requests from the White House asking him to publicly declare that President Trump had not obstructed justice, according to reports published Friday by The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. The first request came after attorney general William Barr allowed the White House to get an advance look at the report, which confirmed that McGahn testified that he had refused a June 2017 directive from Trump to facilitate the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller. McGahn had apparently told the Mueller team that he didn’t think Trump had tried to obstruct justice, but that opinion was not included in the report. The White House and Trump wanted his public support in the political fight to come, but they didn’t get it.
Then, after the redacted report came out and McGahn’s testimony about Trump’s obstruction efforts became a key focal point, the White House, at Trump’s request, once asked McGahn to release a statement clearing the president. When McGahn again declined, Trump and his allies intensified their efforts to discredit the former White House counsel, with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani subsequently saying on CNN that McGahn was “hopelessly confused” about what happened. Trump said he liked McGahn last August, but on Saturday he insisted on Twitter that, in fact, he was “never a big fan” of his former counsel. “Actually, lawyer Don McGahn had a much better chance of being fired than Mueller,” the president also claimed (which is objectively true, since he could have fired McGahn at any time, but was clearly unable to get anyone to fire Mueller).
In his testimony, McGahn told the Mueller team that Trump called him at home, twice, a month after Mueller was appointed to run the Russia investigation to pressure him to help fire the special counsel. “You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod,” McGahn said Trump told him, meaning he had to call deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein to convince him to declare Mueller unfit to serve as special counsel. McGahn refused and planned to resign if Trump insisted, but it never came to that. Trump and his allies have since highlighted how he never said the word “fire,” but McGahn believed the directive was clear regardless. (The president also didn’t like how McGahn took notes during their meetings, preferring there be no record of what transpired.)
Per the Journal’s sources, McGahn apparently isn’t trying to make a statement by not making a statement:
Mr. McGahn turned down the request because he didn’t want to weigh in on the totality of evidence in the report beyond his own testimony, and didn’t want to comment on his own testimony in isolation, the people said. Mr. McGahn also didn’t view his personal opinion as relevant, because Attorney General William Barr had already said he didn’t believe the evidence in Mr. Mueller’s report amounted to obstruction of justice, the people said.
Whatever McGahn really thinks, his testimony has been on the minds of the president and his aides and lawyers for well over a year. In early 2018, Trump ordered several aides to pressure McGahn to release a false statement denying the original reports detailing his testimony to Mueller. That pressure included threatening to fire McGahn if he did not deny the story, but McGahn refused the request. When more reporting about the length of McGahn’s testimony broke over the summer, his lawyer assured Trump’s legal team that McGahn would have resigned if he thought Trump had tried to obstruct justice. Instead, McGahn ultimately left on his own in October — after he completed what was essentially a personal mission to get Brett Kavanaugh nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court.
McGahn’s testimony has also prompted a response from House Democrats, who have issued a subpoena for his White House documents. On Tuesday, White House lawyers instructed him to deny that request, saying they may cite executive privilege to keep the documents from Congress (though they haven’t officially done that yet). House judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler then threatened to hold McGahn in contempt over withholding the documents, but it’s not yet clear what will actually happen next.