WASHINGTON – Donald F. McGahn II, who served as an adviser to former White House President Donald J. Trump, has told lawmakers that episodes involving him in the Russia report by Special Adviser Robert S. Mueller III were correct. – including one Mr. Trump has denied, where the president pressured him to get the Department of Justice remove Mr. Mueller.
A 241-page printout of Mr. McGahn’s testimony about last week’s closed door, released Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee, contained no major revelations. But it opened a window for Mr. McGahn̵
“They do not teach you this in law school,” McGahn said of an episode he witnessed in which Mr. Trump tried to get his then-lawyer, Jeff Sessions, to resign because he had withdrawn from the Russia investigation.
Sir. McGahn was a major witness to many of the episodes outlined in the second volume of the Mueller report, which focused on actions taken by Trump to prevent the investigation. After then-Attorney General William P. Barr – who said none of these episodes constituted a felony – released most of the report in 2019, Democrats called Mr. McGahn in hopes of a dramatic TV hearing.
But the Trump Justice Department fought to block the lawsuit, leading to a lengthy and complex court battle. It ended when the Biden Justice Department entered into an agreement with the House Democrats to allow Mr. McGahn to testify, but under strict limits: It would take place privately and he could only be asked for information in the public parts of Mueller’s report.
While the testimony was delayed and limited, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Representative Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat in New York, portrayed it as important.
“Mr. McGahn provided the committee with significant new information,” Nadler said in a statement accompanying the release of the transcript. He added, “All in all, Mr. McGahn’s testimony gave us a new look at how dangerously close President Trump brought us to, with Mr. McGahn’s words, “point of no return”. “
Sir. McGahn used this phrase when a House Democrat lawyer grilled him at length about Mr. Trump’s efforts to get him to tell then-Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to remove Mr. Mueller because of a dubious claim that the Special Adviser had a conflict of interest – which Mr McGahn refused to do, believing it could “get this out of control.”
After Trump called him home on a Saturday in 2017 to pressure him again to ask Rosenstein to oust Mueller, for example, Mr. McGahn that he was deeply concerned.
“When I got off the phone with the president, how did I feel?” he said. “Oof. Frustrated, disturbed, trapped. Many emotions. ”
Fearing that the dissemination of the directive might instead get Mr. Rosenstein to step down and touch on a crisis similar to President Nixon’s Saturday Night massacre during the Watergate scandal was Mr. McGahn instead prepared to resign if Mr. Trump did not give up. He told several White House colleagues about his intentions, but not Mr. Trump himself. But the crisis blew instead over a period of time.
In his testimony, Mr. McGahn that he was afraid that if Mr. Trump removed Mr. Mueller or otherwise interfere in the investigation, the action would be used to accuse the president of obstructing justice. But he was also careful to frame his concerns as if of PR, without acknowledging that any legal boundaries were ever crossed.
“It did not mean that the president intervened, but it would certainly be easy to look like that,” said Mr. McGahn.
The internal furor over Mr.Trump’s previous attempt to remove Mueller was resumed in January 2018, when The New York Times and then The Washington Post reported on the meeting.
Sir. Trump became furious and pushed Mr McGahn to make a statement denying that the episode had happened, but he refused to do so – because The Times’ story was significantly accurate. (Mr. McGahn said Posten’s follow-up to The Times story was clearer on a question – whether he had conveyed his threat directly to Mr. Trump – because Mr. McGahn had been a source for The Post to explain this nuance.)
Sir. McGahn had also already told Mr Mueller’s team about the incident at the time – Mr Trump had ordered him to work with the Special Adviser – and he feared Mr Mueller would consider accusing him of making a false statement to law enforcement officials if he contradicted his account.
Sir. McGahn also called Mr. Trump’s claim that he never even proposed firing Mr. “Mueller was” disappointing “because Mr. Trump” certainly entertained the idea. It certainly seemed to ask a number of people about it. It certainly had a number of conversations with me about something along those lines. “
The battle over whether Mr McGahn would erroneously say that Mr Trump had never asked him to have the special lawyer removed by Mr Rosenstein also led to a vivid moment in the Mueller report in which Mr Trump chastised Mr McGahn to take notes on their conversations and said it was not something Roy M. Cohn – a notorious lawyer who was excluded from unethical behavior but whom Mr Trump admired – would have done. Cohn died in 1986.
“I did not really answer,” said Mr. McGahn. “I have made my point. And this was not the first time Roy Cohn has kind of – Roy’s ghost had entered the oval office, so it did not seem to be a point worth answering, and you know he’s president, he’s getting the last word . ”