The Slatest

House Judiciary Committee Issues Subpoena for Former White House Counsel Don McGahn

Then-White House Counsel Don McGahn attends a cabinet meeting with President Trump at the White House Oct. 17, 2018.
White House counsel Don McGahn attends a Cabinet meeting with President Trump at the White House Oct. 17.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn on Monday, the first to be issued post–Mueller report to the Trump White House as it was configured at key moments of the investigation. McGahn was a vital figure during his two years in the Trump administration and is seen as a pivotal witness in any potential obstruction case against Trump. According to the Mueller report, McGahn was instructed to lie on multiple occasions in response to a January 2018 New York Times story that said Trump had called McGahn in June 2017 and ordered him to fire the special counsel on a half-baked conflict of interest charge. McGahn, who sat for extended sessions with Mueller’s investigators, said he refused to fire the special counsel and then refused to put out a false public statement demanded by Trump that denied the president had ordered him to sack the special counsel.

McGahn is therefore a central player not just because of his proximity to the president and his central role in the White House, but because ordering someone to lie is a big, bright red line when it comes to obstruction of justice. Now that the Mueller report is out and the onus for any obstruction charge is clearly on Congress, it makes sense that McGahn would be among the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s first calls.

“The Special Counsel’s report, even in redacted form, outlines substantial evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction and other abuses,” Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler said in a statement Monday. “Mr. McGahn is a critical witness to many of the alleged instances of obstruction of justice and other misconduct described in the Mueller report. His testimony will help shed further light on the President’s attacks on the rule of law, and his attempts to cover up those actions by lying to the American people and requesting others do the same.”

If the Mueller report is any indication, what McGahn has to say could spell serious trouble for Trump. “I never said to fire Mueller,” Trump told McGahn, according to McGahn’s account of the incident in the report. “I never said ‘fire.’ This story doesn’t look good. You need to correct this. You’re the White House counsel.”

“Did I say the word ‘fire’?” Trump asked. “What you said is, ‘Call Rod [Rosenstein], tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can’t be the special counsel,’ ” McGahn replied.

The White House did not claim executive or attorney-client privilege over McGahn’s testimony, although it’s unclear if such a claim would have held up in court. There is legal precedent that federal lawyers’ communications are not protected and can be compelled to cooperate with federal grand jury requests for information.

McGahn is scheduled to appear before Congress on May 21.