The Slatest

The White House Will Fight McGahn Subpoena Because His Public Testimony Could Be a Knockout Blow

Former White House Counsel Don McGahn listens during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh.
Could former White House counsel Don McGahn be the silver bullet? Pool/Getty Images

The White House is planning to fight the House Judiciary Committee’s subpoena of former White House counsel Don McGahn, the Washington Post reports, as part of a broader attempt to stonewall Democrat-led efforts to have key figures testify before Congress in the wake of the Mueller report’s publication. The White House says it will invoke a broad interpretation of executive privilege to keep current and former members of the administration from testifying under oath before Congressional subcommittees.

McGahn’s extensive testimony to Robert Mueller’s investigators is key to the obstruction of justice case against the president laid out by the special counsel. McGahn told investigators that he rebuffed Trump’s orders to fire Mueller and when those orders were made public by the New York Times six months later he refused the president’s directive to lie and deny it occurred. McGahn’s centrality in the Mueller report’s obstruction findings would make him an all-star witness for Democrats in Congress. To Trump, the public testimony of the former White House counsel articulating what appear to be crimes, along with general madness and dysfunction, could be devastating to his presidency.

McGahn’s uneven relationship with the president while working in the White House deteriorated into what appears to be an adversarial one by the end of McGahn’s tenure. He left two years into the term with Trump ranting that he had leaked the information about the aborted Mueller sacking. The president referred to him as a “lying bastard,” according to the Mueller report. So where does that leave McGahn on possibly testifying in one month’s time? From the Post:

McGahn’s lawyer, William Burck, began discussions with the House Judiciary Committee about his potential testimony after the panel issued a subpoena Monday, according to people familiar with the matter. People close to McGahn, who were not authorized to speak publicly, said McGahn is “following the process” and working with the White House on his next steps, despite Trump’s public and private anger about his former White House counsel’s prominence in the Mueller report.

“He’s not eager to testify. He’s not reluctant. He got a subpoena. It compels him to testify. But there are some countervailing legal reasons that might prevent that,” said one person close to McGahn, who requested anonymity to describe private discussions. “He doesn’t want to be in contempt of Congress nor does he want to be in contempt of his ethical obligations and legal obligations as a former White House official.”

At one point, Trump asked McGahn why he had told Mueller that he tried to fire him. McGahn explained that their conversations were not protected by attorney-client privilege. The president then asked, according to the Mueller report, “What-about these notes? Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’ t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.” McGahn told Trump he keeps notes because he’s a “real lawyer.”

A real lawyer, huh. That, to me, sounds like someone who swallowed everything for two years and might just be dying to testify.