After a nearly two-year court battle, former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn testified behind closed doors on Friday about his role in the events described in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
The scope of the long-awaited interview was “limited” to specific topics, including “information attributed to Mr. McGahn in the publicly available portions of the Mueller Report and events that the publicly available portions of the Mueller Report indicate involved Mr. McGahn,” according to the agreement struck between House Democrats and the Justice Department, while “communications between Mr. McGahn and other Executive Branch officials that are not disclosed in the publicly available portions of the Mueller Report are outside of the scope of the interview.”
The House Judiciary Committee is set to ask the former Trump aide “whether the Mueller Report accurately reflected Mr. McGahn’s statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and whether those statements were truthful.”
McGahn, who served as counsel from former President Donald Trump’s inauguration through his resignation in October 2018, is mentioned 529 times in Mueller’s 448-page report.
The Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, said the agreement for McGahn’s testimony is a compromise that “satisfies our subpoena, protects the Committee’s constitutional duty to conduct oversight in the future, and safeguards sensitive executive branch prerogatives,” according to the Associated Press, telling reporters during a break in the Friday interview that McGahn’s testimony “vindicates the congressional subpoena right.”
It is unclear what Democrats will actually do with whatever information McGahn provides.
Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking GOP member on the committee, tweeted bluntly, “Don McGahn is being deposed today before the Judiciary Committee. It should be Dr. Fauci.” Anthony Fauci has come under increased fire in recent days following the release of thousands of his emails from early in the pandemic, in which a Washington Examiner review shows he worked behind the scenes to cast doubt on the lab leak hypothesis for COVID-19’s origin.
McGahn, now a partner at the Jones Day law firm, was represented by William Burck on Friday, and Justice Department lawyers were expected to be in the room. A transcript of the closed-door interview is expected to be released within a week.
“Mr. McGahn will be free to decline to answer questions outside of the agreed-upon scope of questioning and counsel from the Department of Justice may instruct Mr. McGahn not to answer such questions,” the House-DOJ agreement added. “No assertions of executive privilege will be made with respect to information provided by Mr. McGahn to the Special Counsel and attributed to Mr. McGahn in the publicly available portions of the Mueller Report. But counsel from the Department of Justice otherwise retain the right to assert executive privilege. The Committee retains its rights to challenge any assertion of privilege.”
Trump spokesman Jason Miller initially said the former president might try to fight McGahn’s appearance.
“This case presents important questions concerning confidentiality of communications between the President and his closest advisers and the ability of a House committee to pry into those communications,” Miller said.
However, Trump didn’t end up challenging the appearance.
The original subpoena, which McGahn and the Trump administration resisted, came before the Ukraine-related impeachment investigation into Trump. However, Democrats said they still saw testimony from the former White House counsel as essential despite the articles of impeachment centering on events that took place after McGahn left the White House. The Justice Department under Trump fought the testimony in court, but under the Biden administration, the agency spent the first few months of 2021 negotiating with House Democrats.
Mueller said McGahn told his team Trump told him the special counsel must be removed, a claim that Trump denied.
Mueller’s report, released in April 2019, said the media reported in June 2017 that Mueller “was investigating whether the President had obstructed justice” and that “the President reacted to this news with a series of tweets criticizing the Department of Justice and the Special Counsel’s investigation.” In addition, Mueller’s report said Trump called McGahn at home and “directed him to call the Acting Attorney General and say that the Special Counsel had conflicts of interest and must be removed” but that “McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre.”
The special counsel report also noted that in early 2018, the media reported “the President had directed McGahn to have the Special Counsel removed in June 2017 and that McGahn had threatened to resign rather than carry out the order” and that “the President reacted to the news stories by directing White House officials to tell McGahn to dispute the story and create a record stating he had not been ordered to have the Special Counsel removed.” It also reported “the President then met with McGahn in the Oval Office and again pressured him to deny the reports.”
But Mueller said, “McGahn refused to back away from what he remembered happening.”
In response, Trump attacked Mueller and McGahn on Twitter in 2019.
“As has been incorrectly reported by the Fake News Media, I never told then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, even though I had the legal right to do so. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I didn’t need McGahn to do it, I could have done it myself,” Trump tweeted in April 2019. “Nevertheless … Mueller was NOT fired and was respectfully allowed to finish his work on what I, and many others, say was an illegal investigation (there was no crime), headed by a Trump hater who was highly conflicted, and a group of 18 VERY ANGRY Democrats. DRAIN THE SWAMP!”
Trump tweeted the next month, “I was NOT going to fire Bob Mueller, and did not fire Bob Mueller. In fact, he was allowed to finish his Report with unprecedented help from the Trump Administration … Actually, lawyer Don McGahn had a much better chance of being fired than Mueller. Never a big fan!”
The special counsel’s report concluded Russia interfered “in a sweeping and systematic fashion” during the 2016 presidential election, but Mueller “did not establish” any criminal conspiracy between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
Democrats sued McGahn in August 2019, claiming to need his testimony on Mueller’s inquiry, particularly the 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice that Mueller outlined in his report. Then-Attorney General William Barr and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded justice had not been obstructed. In November 2019, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled in favor of the Democrats, although that was quickly appealed.
After President Joe Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 election and the Democrats maintained control of the House, Nadler reissued a subpoena in December that said his panel still had “a right to and need for” McGahn’s testimony.
Jordan blasted Nadler’s decision at the time, saying he was “disappointed that you are continuing to misuse limited Committee resources on your fanatical obsession with attacking President Donald Trump.” The Ohio Republican added that “for too long, you have allowed your oddly personal obsession with President Trump to cloud the Committee’s work.”