Search This Blog

Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Mueller Report: McGahn and Obstruction

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.   The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

From the Mueller report:
On Saturday, June 17, 2017, the President called McGahn and directed him to have the Special Counsel removed.  McGahn was at home and the President was at Camp David. In interviews with this Office, McGahn recalled that the Pre sident called him at home twice and on both occasions directed him to call Rosenstein and say that Mueller had conflicts that precluded him from serving as Special Counsel. 
On the first call, McGahn recalled that the President said something like , "You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod."  McGahn said he told the President that he would see what he could do.  McGahn was perturbed by the call and did not intend to act on the request.  He and other advisors believed the asserted conflicts were "silly" and "not real, " and they had previously communicated that view to the President.  McGahn also had made clear to the President that the White House Counsel's Office should not be involved in any effort to press the issue of conflicts.  McGahn was concerned about having any role in asking the Acting Attorney General to fire the Special Counsel because he had grown up in the Reagan era and wanted to be more like Judge Robert Bork and not " Saturday Night Massacre Bork." McGahn considered the President 's request to be an inflection point and he wanted to hit the brakes. 
When the President called McGahn a second time to follow up on the order to call the Department of Justice, McGahn recalled that the President was more direct , saying something like, "Call Rod, tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can 't be the Special Counsel."  McGahn recalled the President telling him "Mueller has to go" and "Call me back when you do it." McGahn understood the President to be saying that the Special Counsel had to be removed by Rosenstein. To end the conversation with the President , McGahn left the President with the impression that McGahn would call Rosenstein. McGahn recalled that he had already said no to the President's request and he was worn down , so he just wanted to get off the phone. 
McGahn recalled feeling trapped because he did not plan to follow the President's directive but did not know what he would say the next time the President  alled.  McGahn decided he had to resign. He called his personal lawyer and then called his chief of staff, Annie Donaldson, to inform her of his decision.  He then drove to the office to pack his belongings and submit his resignation letter.  Donaldson recalled that McGahn told her the President had called and demanded he contact the Department of Justice and that the President wanted him to do something that McGahn did not want to do.  McGahn told Donaldson that the President had called at least twice and in one of the calls asked "have you done it?" McGahn did not tell Donaldson the specifics of the President's request because he was consciously trying not to involve her in the investigation , but Donaldson inferred that the President's directive was related to the Russia investigation. Donaldson prepared to resign along with McGahn. 
That evening, McGahn called both Priebus and Bannon and told them that he intended to resign. McGahn recalled that, after speaking with his attorney and given the nature of thePresident 's request, he decided not to share details of the President's request with other White House staff. Priebus recalled that McGahn said that the President had asked him to "do crazy shit, " but he thought McGahn did not tell him the specifics of the President 's request because McGahn was trying to protect Priebus from what he did not need to know.  Priebus and Bannon both urged McGahn not to quit, and McGahn ultimately returned to work that Monday and remained in his position.  He had not told the President directly that he planned to resign, and when they next saw each other the President did not ask McGahn whether he had followed through with calling Rosenstein. 
Around the same time, Chris Christie recalled a telephone _call with the President in which the President asked what Christie thought about the President firing the Special Counsel. Christie advised against doing so because there was no substantive basis for the President to fire the Special Counsel, and because the President would lose support from Republicans in Congress if he did so.
...

Substantial evidence indicates that the President's attempts to remove the Special Counsel were linked to the Special Counsel's oversight of investigations that involved the President's conduct- and, most immediately , to reports that the President was being investigated for potential obstruction of justice.
Before the President terminated Corney , the President considered it critically important that he was not under investigation and that the public not erroneously think he was being investigated. As described in Volume TI, Section TI.D, supra, advisors perceived the President , while he was drafting the Corney termination letter, to be concerned more than anything else about getting out that he was not personally under investigation. When the President learned of the appointment of the Special Counsel on May 17, 2017, he expressed further concern about the investigation, saying "[t]his is the end of my Presidency. " The President also faulted Sessions for recusing , saying "you were supposed to protect me. "
On June 14, 2017, when the Washington Post reported that the Special Counsel was investigating the President for obstruction of justice, the President was facing what he had wanted to avoid: a criminal investigation into his own conduct that was the subject of widespread media attention. The evidence indicates that news of the obstruction investigation prompted the President to call McGahn and seek to have the Special Counsel removed. By mid-June, the Department of Justice had already cleared the Special Counse l's service and the President's advisors had told him that the claimed conflicts of interest were "silly" and did not provide a basis to remove the Special Counsel. On June 13, 2017, the Acting Attorney General testified before Congress that no good cause for removing the Special Counsel existed, and the President dictated a press statement to Sanders saying he had no intention of firing the Special Counsel. But the next day, the media reported that the President was under investigation for obstruction of justice and the Special Counsel was interviewing witnesses about events related to possible obstruction - spurring the President to write critical tweets about the Specia l Counsel's investigation. The President called McGahn at home that night and then called him on Saturday from Camp David . The evidence accordingly indicates that news that an obstruction investigation had been opened is what led the President to call McGahn to have the Special Counsel terminated.
There also is evidence that the President knew that he should not have made those calls to McGahn. The President made the calls to McGahn after McGahn had specifically told the President that the White House Counsel's Office-and McGahn himself-could not be involved in pressing conflicts claims and that the President should consult with his personal counsel if he wished to raise conflicts. Instead of relying on his personal counsel to submit the conflicts claims, the President sought to use his official powers to remove the Special Counsel. And after the media reported on the President's actions, he denied that he ever ordered McGahn to have the Special Counsel terminated and made repeated efforts to have McGahn deny the story, as discussed in Volume II, Section II.I, infra. Those denials are contrary to the evidence and suggest the President's awareness that the direction to McGahn could be seen as improper.