Former White House Counsel Don McGahn told lawmakers that former President Donald Trump called him with ‘urgency’ to tell him to raise conflict-of-interest issues in an effort to force out Robert Mueller following a report the then-special counsel was probing potential obstruction.
McGahn faced a series of questions in long sought closed-door testimony about areas the Mueller report examined as potential obstruction – including Trump’s demand that he call Rosenstein in an incident he feared would be a rerun of the infamous Saturday Night Massacre.
McGahn, who spent hours as a witness with Mueller’s investigators, took repeated efforts to hew as closely as possible to the written report they produced, while not disputing key details of Mueller’s narrative – including that Trump called him at home to tell him directly to ‘call Rod’ – former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Former White House Counsel Don McGahn says former President Trump called to tell him: ‘You got to do this. You got to call Rod.’ It was an effort to get him to call then-Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein to get him to raise ‘conflicts’ having to do with former Special Counsel Robert Mueller. McGahn refused to carry out what he called a ‘directive’
McGahn was grilled a June 14th conversation that came about after the Washington Post reported Mueller was probing potential obstruction by the president as part of the Russia probe.
Reading from the report, a Judiciary Committee lawyer read: ‘On the first call, McGahn recalled that the President said something like, “You got to do this. You got to call Rod.”‘
McGahn was more direct in his latest testimony. ‘He was urging me that, yeah, and used those words, yes,’ he said.
‘My understanding was that I had to call Rod to tell Rod about the conflicts,’ McGahn said – in reference to Trump’s own claim that Mueller had conflicts that prevented him from serving as special counsel that should force him to vacate the position.
‘Call Rod’: McGahn reaffirmed language in the Mueller Report that Trump told him to call Rod Rosenstein to raise ‘conflicts’ regarding Mueller
Robert Mueller detailed 11 instances of potential obstruction in his report
But McGahn resisted repeated requests by Trump to raise these issues as the lawyer for the president.
‘But it wasn’t the job of the counsel to the President to raise that kind of conflict,’ he said, adding that Trump could do so through his personal lawyer if he wished.
The ‘conflicts’ Trump alleged involved Mueller’s past work for a law firm that also represented his former campaign chair Paul Manafort – who Trump would pardon before leaving office following conviction on corruption charges, and a dispute over golf dues at a Trump D.C.-area golf club.
When lawyers for Committee Democrats tried to push him further, McGahn resisted.
‘Would you agree that it would also look like still trying to meddle in the investigation?’ he was asked. ‘Certainly, it could look like that. It didn’t mean the President was meddling, but certainly it would be easily made to look that way,’ he responded.
The Mueller report cites notes from a top aide who said McGahn told Trump that ‘knocking out Mueller’ would be ‘another fact used to claim obstruction of justice.’
Asked if he recalled saying that, he responded: ‘I have a vague recollection of that, but I don’t have a crisp recollection, sitting here today.’
The calls to get McGahn to instruct Rosenstein to push out Mueller were one of 11 instances of potential obstruction instances Mueller’s team examined. Others included the firing of FBI Director James Comey and conversations, also detailed by McGahn, and Comey’s statements that Trump asked him to see about dropping an investigation of former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, who Trump also later pardoned.
According to the report, McGahn decided to quit and cleaned out his desk, fearing a ‘Saturday Night Massacre’ situation.
McGahn says he took Trump’s call as a ‘direction.’
‘Candidly, I took it as a little more of a direction to press Rod harder on the conflicts issue and to tell Rod that the President thinks this is a conflict,’ he said.
McGahn told the committee it was something ‘I wasn’t really comfortable doing’ and that ‘I think my reaction was getting off the phone.’
McGahn also feared that ‘if I conveyed the tone that I heard on the phone from the President to Rod, Rod could do who knows what. He could resign himself. Who knows what Rod would do.’
Said McGahn: ‘There’s a myriad of reasons why Rod could resign, but if he felt like he was being pushed to do something he didn’t want to do in a way that he didn’t think was consistent with what his job was, he could tender a resignation.’
McGahn also considered his own exposure. ‘I don’t want to get caught up in an appearance that somehow I was meddling in an investigation or I was a witness,’ he said.
He also confirmed that he told Mueller he resisted, fearing a ‘Saturday Night Massacre’ situation.
‘This was sort of my Irish Blarney way of explaining what I tried to explain earlier, that if I, as counsel to the President, called the Acting Attorney General and conveyed an urgent message about the need for the special counsel to not be permitted to serve because of conflicts, that could cause Rosenstein to think he was being ordered to do something that he would find contrary to his oath of office.’
‘And there’s historical example of that happening,’ he said, referencing the Watergate-era example. ‘And when that happens, you had a succession of resignations at the Department of Justice. I didn’t want that to happen, so I didn’t call Rod.’