White House counsel Don McGahn has spoken to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators for at least 30 hours in total over three voluntary interviews, the New York Times reported Saturday, citing “a dozen current and former White House officials and others briefed on the matter.”
The Times said that although Trump’s legal team initially offered no objection to McGahn speaking with investigators — Trump’s former lawyers John Dowd and Ty Cobb pursued an “open-book” legal strategy, encouraging White House staff to cooperate with the investigation — “It is not clear that Mr. Trump appreciates the extent to which Mr. McGahn has cooperated with the special counsel.”
McGahn, the Times reported, was initially suspicious that Trump’s team’s openness to having him talk with investigators was a sign Trump planned to blame McGahn for future legal troubles. So McGahn and his lawyer “devised their own strategy to do as much as possible to cooperate” with the probe, in the Times’ words.
With the first meeting occurring in November, the Times reported that McGahn provided information on “the president’s most intimate moments with his lawyer”:
Among them were Mr. Trump’s comments and actions during the firing of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and Mr. 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. Mr. McGahn was also centrally involved in Mr. Trump’s attempts to fire the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, which investigators might not have discovered without him.
Later, the article details the discussions further:
Mr. McGahn gave to Mr. Mueller’s investigators, the people said, 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.
McGahn, the Times said, told investigators about how Trump had tried to “ensure control” of the investigation.
“The president and Don have a great relationship,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the Times. “He appreciates all the hard work he’s done, particularly his help and expertise with the judges, and the Supreme Court” nominees.
The Times reported it wasn’t clear whether Mueller’s team and McGahn have spoken “about whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia’s effort to influence the election.”
In January, the Times reported that McGahn had threatened to quit after Trump ordered him to have Mueller fired the previous summer. Trump subsequently backed down, only to later ask McGahn through an aide to publicly refute the Times article detailing the stand-off. (McGahn had to remind Trump that he had indeed asked him to instruct Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein fire Mueller.)
McGahn, in the summer of 2017, recused the entire counsel’s office from Mueller’s probe, given that many of the lawyers working in his office were “significant participants” in matters central to the investigation, Cobb said in June.
Mueller is reportedly in possession of a Feb. 15, 2017 memo written by McGahn and two deputies that “explicitly states that when Trump pressured Comey [to let the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn “go”] he had just been told by two of his top aides — his then chief of staff Reince Priebus and his White House counsel Don McGahn — that Flynn was under criminal investigation,” in the words of a New York Reivew of Books article.
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