President Trump called New York Times report that he ordered special counsel Robert Mueller fired ‘fake news.’ The Times reports Trump ordered the firing last June but backed off when White House lawyer Don McGahn threatened to quit. (Jan. 26)
WASHINGTON – White House counsel Don McGahn has cooperated heavily with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, giving them interviews that spanned about 30 hours in total, a person familiar with McGahn’s contact with the special counsel’s office tells USA TODAY.
The source did not elaborate on the contents of his discussions with Mueller’s team, but The New York Times, which first disclosed the scope of McGahn’s cooperation Saturday, said McGahn took Mueller’s team through President Donald Trump’s comments and actions in some of the most controversial topics that have surrounded the White House.
Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by the president.
McGahn reportedly told investigators what he knew about the president’s role in the firing of former FBI director James Comey, Trump’s repeated criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his role in the Russia investigation before the president hired outside counsel to deal with the matter, The Times reported, citing a dozen anonymous sources.
McGahn’s testimony would almost certainly be key in any possible obstruction of justice charge laid out by Mueller, as he had incredible access to Trump, his associates, private conversations and the underbelly of the White House during many of the incidents Mueller and his team are investigating.
The president’s outside legal team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
McGahn reportedly threatened to quit when Trump posed the idea of firing Mueller last year. He and others convinced Trump that firing Mueller would be a bad idea and eventually Trump pledged to work with the special counsel’s office. Officials also told USA TODAY at the time that Trump was well aware of the political fallout from a dismissal of the special counsel.
McGahn and other Trump administration officials also sought to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions to remain in control of the investigation into Russia’s election interference, even as the attorney general faced mounting pressure to recuse himself, two officials familiar with the matter told USA TODAY in January.
The disclosures raised questions about President Trump’s personal involvement in deterring the federal investigation into Russia’s election interference.
Mueller had been aware of the contacts by McGahn and others for months, USA TODAY previously reported.
The contacts were made amid a chaotic whirl of events leading up to Sessions’s ultimate March, 2017 recusal. During that time, McGahn reached out to Sessions to indicate that he did not have to disqualify himself after failing to disclose his own contacts with Russians during the campaign. But it wasn’t just him, the sources said, noting that other administration officials offered similar accounts.
McGahn was also on an April phone call with Attorney General Jeff Sessions where he was told that Sessions would resign if Trump dismissed Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing Mueller and his team.
Sessions reportedly McGahn that he would consider quitting if Trump fired Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. At the time, Sessions was concerned Trump was close to dismissing Rosenstein because the president was furious about the FBI raid on the office of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
McGahn reportedly opened up to Mueller’s team following a decision by Trump’s outside legal team, wanting full cooperation in hopes the probe would end quickly, the Times reported.
The newspaper reports McGahn felt this could be a trick and feared the president and his team of lawyers might be setting him up to take the blame for any possible criminal charges that arise.
This was the case during Richard Nixon’s presidency. Former White House Counsel John Dean ended up cooperating with investigators, becoming a star witness after fearing Nixon was setting him up to be a scapegoat in the Watergate scandal.
Dean, on CNN Saturday afternoon, said he thought McGahn was doing the right thing cooperating with Mueller’s team.
He said the information MnGahn has would likely be “invaluable” to investigators.
Contributing: David Jackson, Will Cummings
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2OP4iYZ