WASHINGTON (AP) – Former White House lawyer Don McGahn told lawmakers in a closed-door interview last week that he considered President Donald Trump’s efforts to sack Special Advocate Robert Mueller as a “point of no return” for the administration if realized.
McGahn, who resisted Trump’s directive to contact then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to push for Mueller to be removed from the Russia investigation, said the request seemed “a point of inflection “that would have prompted Rosenstein to either fire Mueller or resign himself, according to a transcript released Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee.
“We’re still talking about the Saturday Night Massacre decades and decades later,” McGahn said, referring to the resignation of two senior Justice Department officials in 1973 rather than following President Richard Nixon’s orders to fire. the special prosecutor in charge of the Watergate investigation.
“And, looking back, as a history student, you always wonder if things could have turned out differently if different people had made different decisions? And here my thought was, fast forward, you know, what it’s going to look like on the road, ”he said.
McGahn’s appearance before the committee last Friday, which lasted two years and is the product of a long legal battle, covered many episodes at the center of Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice, according to the 241-page transcript. In the interview, he detailed the President’s agitation during the Special Council’s investigation and various pleas for McGahn to intervene in an attempt to control its course.
Even though McGahn’s memories were already well documented in the Mueller report, and even though he was unlikely to break new ground in the House, Democrats had continued to push for the attorney’s testimony to set a clear precedent. that executive officials must comply with congressional subpoenas. . McGahn was one of many Trump administration officials who ignored Congress through the Russia inquiries and two impeachments.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement after the interview that it was “a great victory for oversight of Congress”, although two years was too long to wait. . After Democrats first subpoenaed McGahn, Trump was impeached twice by the House and acquitted twice by the Senate.
McGahn made sure he followed the ground rules, frequently asking committee lawyers to refer to the pages of Mueller’s report. He also indicated that his memory was fuzzy on certain details. “You put me back four years and try to remember what was on my mind,” he told questioners at one point.
As a White House lawyer, McGahn had an insider’s perspective on the president’s anger at the investigation and the efforts to control it. After learning that then Attorney General Jeff Sessions was planning to withdraw from the Russia investigation, a move that infuriated Trump, McGahn contacted people close to Sessions, including his personal lawyer and his chief of staff.
“I was certainly trying to avoid the challenge of the Attorney General if the challenge was not justified. Okay? ”McGahn said during questioning.
Much of the questioning focused on Trump’s attempt to get McGahn to get Rosenstein to fire Mueller over perceived conflicts of interest and McGahn’s refusal to call Rosenstein. He said he viewed the request as creating a “point of no return” and one that left him feeling “trapped” and was considering a resignation.
“My fear is that if I called Rod, given the atmosphere, given – you know, I didn’t know Rod that well at the time, but what I did know about him, my worry was that he might. potentially react in a way that would cause him to potentially quit, and that would set off a chain reaction that wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interests, ”McGahn said.
After this episode was reported in The New York Times, McGahn refused to demand a correction even though the president wanted one.
He said he wasn’t too worried about being fired despite being told it could be a possibility.
“I would say I’m not surprised I wasn’t fired because when the president and I were in phase we did a lot of great things and he trusted me to do a lot of important work and a lot of his legacy and of his judicial selection and that sort of thing, “said McGahn,
“So I was adding value in a lot of ways, and I thought he wasn’t going to blow up and fire me for it when I was as sure as he was of what we said in the conversation,” he said. he added.