The Slatest

White House Lawyer Cooperating With Mueller, Fears He May Be Used as Scapegoat

White House lawyer, Don McGahn, escorts Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh to a meeting with Sen. Joe Donnelly (R-IN) on August 15, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
White House lawyer, Don McGahn, escorts Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh to a meeting with Sen. Joe Donnelly (R-IN) on August 15, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

White House counsel Donald McGahn has “cooperated extensively” with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, sharing key details that investigators say they would not have known about otherwise, the New York Times reveals. McGahn sat down for at least three voluntary interviews with investigators that totaled 30 hours, providing “detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice.”

Shortly after the story was published, the president acknowledged the cooperation from the White House counsel, but characterized it as part of his effort to be “transparent.” In a tweet, Trump said he “allowed” McGahn “and all other requested members of the White House Staff, to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel.” He also noted his staff “readily gave over one million pages of documents. Most transparent in history. No Collusion, No Obstruction. Witch Hunt!”

Such extensive cooperation from a lawyer is very unusual to say the least. But in this case it seems it started organically and then turned into strategy. McGahn’s cooperation with the investigators came about because the commander in chief’s first legal team decided to cooperate fully with Mueller. They said that was a reflection of how the president didn’t have anything to hide. But then McGahn and his lawyer apparently started to get worried, they couldn’t quite understand why Trump wouldn’t be concerned about the White House counsel speaking so freely to investigators. So they started to think maybe Trump was “setting up” McGahn “to take the blame for any possible illegal acts of obstruction,” reports the Times. That’s when McGahn and his lawyer decided that their strategy would be to cooperate as much as possible with investigators.

The president seems to have “wrongly believed” McGahn was going to act like his personal lawyer and defend his interests. But even though he made clear he hadn’t seen the president take any action that goes beyond “his legal authorities,” some of the information he shared was not so favorable to the president.

The White House dismissed the idea that there was tension between Trump and McGahn. “The president and Don have a great relationship,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement. “He appreciates all the hard work he’s done, particularly his help and expertise with the judges, and the Supreme Court” nominees.

John Dean, who was White House counsel under President Nixon, wrote on Twitter Saturday that he thought McGahn was on the right path. “McGahn is doing right!” he wrote.