The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday released 241 pages of testimony from former White House Counsel Don McGahn offering new details about former President Donald Trump’s attempts to oust Robert Mueller as special counsel.
Some of the most surprising testimony came from McGahn recounting phone calls in which Trump pressured McGahn to help oust Mueller, as the president asked the White House counsel to pressure the Department of Justice over alleged conflicts of interest.
McGahn said he felt “many emotions” Trump urged him to press former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on the conflicts, including “frustrated, perturbed, trapped” and “concerned.”
McGahn felt Trump’s requests to press Rosenstein on Mueller’s conflicts of interest were a “point of no return” and could “spiral out of control” by causing a series of resignations similar to the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre, in which several Nixon officials resigned rather than firing a special prosecutor on the president’s orders.
McGahn said he felt one of those alleged conflicts, Mueller resigning his membership at Trump’s Virginia golf club in 2011, did not fall under his purview, telling the committee, “counsel to the president is not the one to raise, at least, the golf course conflict, right?”
But McGahn also had broader legal objections to calling Rosenstein at all, and, even after telling Trump he would “see what he could do,” did not intend to make the call, explaining to the committee that he lied because he was “trying to get off the phone.”
McGahn described Trump as “focused” on trying to get him to make the case for removing Mueller, adding that while he “wasn’t angry” on the call, his tone “had a certain intensity to it.”
McGahn said it was “disappointing” Trump called him a “lying bastard” for saying Trump tried to have Mueller fired, stating that Trump “certainly entertained the idea,” “seemed to ask a number of people about it” and had “a number of conversations with me about something along those lines.”
Mueller, a former FBI director, was appointed as special counsel by Rosenstein after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017. In addition to probing alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, Mueller investigated ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and ended up prosecuting a number of Trump’s associates. Mueller released a 448-page report finding no evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia but declining to exonerate Trump for obstruction of justice, detailing numerous instances in which he attempted, but failed, to stymie the Russia investigation.
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee – only two of whom showed up for the testimony: Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) – argued in a memo the testimony showed Trump “acted appropriately, ethically, and within legal bounds,” noting that McGahn said he never personally witnessed any illegal activity and that Trump instructed him to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation.
McGahn offered a bid of insight into Trump’s leadership and conversational style, testifying that “You rarely leave conversations with President Trump. There’s never really a good beginning, middle, and end… especially when you’re the counsel.” He added, “You’re always kind of around.”