“If the Acting Attorney General received what he thought was a direction from the counsel to the President to remove a special counsel, he would either have to remove the special counsel or resign,” McGahn said. “We are still talking about the ‘Saturday Night Massacre’ decades and decades later.”
McGahn told the committee that he didn’t call Rosenstein in part because he feared that Rosenstein could resign if he felt pressured.
“What I was not going to do is cause any sort of chain reaction that would cause this to spiral out of control in a way that wasn’t in the best interests, at least as a lawyer, what I thought was in the best interests of my client, which was the President,” said McGahn.
McGahn had already described Trump’s maneuvers to the Mueller team, but the Trump administration had blocked him from repeating the interviews with Congress.
A president obsessed
In McGahn’s long-awaited interview with the House Judiciary Committee, the former White House counsel described Trump as a President obsessed with Mueller’s investigation and often close to touching a political third rail.
McGahn told the committee about how Trump had repeated conversations with him about Mueller, who he believed might have conflicts of interest and should be fired. The issue prompted Trump to demand that McGahn send a message to the Justice Department to oust Mueller, and he told McGahn to call Mueller’s then-boss, Rosenstein, to get rid of the special counsel.
“We were having the same conversation again and again and again, coupled with the fact it was a Saturday and it — you know, after the investiture of Neil Gorsuch, I thought we were going to take a little pause over the weekend and smile for once. But we did not smile; we continued wanting to talk about conflicts of interest and Bob Mueller,” McGahn said of his phone call with Trump.
He also described Trump’s voice on the call: “He wasn’t angry. He was certainly focused. The tone certainly had an intensity to it.”
McGahn told the committee he wasn’t comfortable making the call the President requested, because it would have taken him “out of the lane of my job.” He also feared Rosenstein potentially resigning, if he felt he was pushed too far.
At the time, McGahn also feared he could be tainted by the appearance of meddling, or become a witness, and he consulted with his private attorney — though details on why he felt that way weren’t shared in the hearing, because McGahn’s attorney said they were privileged.
Separately, McGahn characterized Trump telling then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, after Mueller’s appointment, that Sessions should resign as a “rather historic potential moment.” McGahn characterized Trump’s unhappiness with Sessions as “having a showdown with his attorney general … they don’t teach you this in law school.”
He also explained how Trump sometimes attempted to use McGahn like a personal lawyer rather than an advocate for the presidency. In one instance, when Trump questioned whether Mueller had a conflict of interest because he at one time had a membership at a Trump golf club, McGahn noted Trump was “talking to the wrong lawyer.”
Often, the committee read to McGahn what Mueller had documented as Trump’s words in his report.
“Yes, there it is. Right,” McGahn replied at one such point. “That’s what he said.”
And as for Trump saying, “This is the end of my presidency. I’m f***ed,” when Mueller was appointed in 2017, McGahn let the President’s words speak for themselves. “I’m not sure what I can add to bring it to life more than what’s on the page,” he said.
Testimony affirms public report
“All told, Mr. McGahn’s testimony gives us a fresh look at how dangerously close President Trump brought us to, in Mr. McGahn’s words, the ‘point of no return,’ ” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York.
Republican staffers on the Judiciary Committee released a memo in response to the release of the transcript, charging that the McGahn interview “failed to substantiate any Democrat allegations of wrongdoing by President Trump.”
McGahn served as the top lawyer on Trump’s 2016 campaign and was White House counsel until fall 2018. He was one of the most significant witnesses against Trump, sitting for interviews with the FBI and prosecutors five times in Mueller’s investigation as the special counsel sought to chronicle Trump’s obstructive acts.