Is Trump Lawyer Donald McGahn A Protector Of The Presidency? A Rat? Or Maybe Both?
My head exploded while reading a New York Times story published over the weekend revealing that White House counsel Donald McGahn has “cooperated extensively” with Special Counsel Robert Mueller without Donald Trump’s full knowledge. But once I had finished moping up all that splattered gray matter, it became perfectly clear.
The Times story was a puff piece disguised as hard-nosed reporting on a palace intrigue that actually is more like bad kabuki theater, notably the claim that lead actor McGahn has been blabbing to protect his client. No, not Trump, silly, but the future of the august office of the president.
The gist of the story is that McGahn was caught off guard by Trump’s decision to waive executive privilege and allow him to talk to Mueller. Fearing that the president was setting him up to be a fall guy, he then developed his own strategy to protect his legal backside and demonstrate he had done nothing wrong.
“It is not clear that Mr. Trump appreciates the extent to which Mr. McGahn has cooperated with the special counsel,” write Times reporters Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman.
“The president wrongly believed that Mr. McGahn would act as a personal lawyer would for clients and solely defend his interests to investigators,” they write. But concerned that Trump ultimately would blame him for his legal travails, McGahn has told confidantes that he is determined to avoid the fate of John Dean, Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Watergate scandal and spent four months in jail.
I summoned what was left of my gray matter to arrive at several hiding-in-plain-view conclusions while trying to untangle all the contradictions freighting The Times story:
* Trump’s legal “strategy” is an even bigger disaster than had been thought.
And has backfired spectacularly because it was premised on the fiction that original defense lawyers John Dowd and Ty Cobb thought Trump was innocent and by bombarding Mueller with a over a million pages of largely innocuous documents and letting McGahn blab, he’d wrap up his investigation without interviewing the president, let alone concluding that he obstructed justice.
* Trump’s claims that he allowed McGahn to cooperate don’t wash.
“No Collusion, No Obstruction. Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted after The Times story broke, not realizing the lengths to which McGahn has gone to cover his ass while kissing Mueller’s. The story does note that possibility, but not the backstory that McGahn has pre-2016 dirt on Trump, former Trump fixer and rat-in-waiting Michael Cohen, and Roger Stone.
* McGahn killed a Federal Election Commission investigation of Stone.
That occurred in 2011 when the FEC was sniffing around a PAC called Should Trump Run, while it is not exactly a secret that Stone, a Trump ally of four decades, colluded with the Russian intelligence agency hackers who stole Democratic National Committee and Crooked Hillary emails and directly communicated with their mouthpiece, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.
But the big conclusion, which Schmidt and Haberman do not address, is whether McGahn has crossed the line from helpful interlocutor to cooperating witness.
In other words, has flipped, and his statements, regardless of the motivation for volunteering them, could become a key component of a report by Mueller which the Justice Department could send to Congress, thereby setting up an impeachment scenario.
Beyond what McGahn did and heard as White House counsel, there is his involvement as Trump’s campaign counsel. This may have involved other areas of interest to Mueller, including Stone’s shadowy involvement and the hiring of Cambridge Analytica.
Schmidt and Haberman write that McGahn sat for 30-plus hours of interviews with the special counsel beginning last November, which has included spilling the beans on Trump’s order that he fire Mueller. This order, according to McGahn’s telling, prompted him to threaten to resign if compelled to do so, yet the impression persists that he leaked that story himself as part of a personal PR campaign of which his assertion that he is not so much trying to save Trump’s job as the future of the presidency is a flag-waving part.
It also gives currency to a report that Cobb, overheard by a reporter in a Washington restaurant last September, called McGahn a leaker and “spy,” as well as another impression — that McGahn is sick of Trump, whom The Times story says he calls “King Kong” because of his volcanic temper, yet hasn’t quit even though he thinks that he’s being set up. Something doesn’t smell right here, but perhaps he’s hoping to be fired.
The Times reported on Monday that the president ordered Rudy Giuliani, who nominally replaced Dowd and Cobb, to tell reporters that the article was wrong. But Giuliani did not go that far in his Sunday television appearances, although he did burnish his reputation for wingnutterly by declaring on “Meet the Press” that “truth isn’t truth,” thereby joining White House adviser Kellyanne Conway’s memorable “alternative facts” rejoinder when called out on the White House’s assertion that Trump’s inauguration crowd was much larger than the news media had reported.
If all of this seems like so much inside baseball, you are more or less right, but we are talking about trying to get to the bottom of an assault on the bedrock of American democracy — a presidential election. And if all you want is for this whole sordid mess to be over and Trump confined to a rubber room at Mar-a-Lago, I share your pain.
Still, The Times story, as overly kind to McGahn and otherwise flawed as it may be, only reinforces the view that Trump colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election and the sooner Mueller reveals that in hard, cold prosecutorial terms the better.
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and related developments.