Apr 19, 2019

The other Don: McGahn is one of the Mueller report's biggest stars

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Late in Don McGahn's tenure as White House counsel, President Trump became so suspicious that he wondered aloud whether McGahn was wearing a wire, a source familiar with the president's private conversations told Axios.

Why it matters: We have no evidence that Trump's suspicions have any basis in reality. But they reveal the depth of his paranoia about his former counsel, who sat for many hours with Robert Mueller's team of prosecutors. 

Anger at McGahn after the report came out was shared among a number of Trump allies, both inside the White House and close to the president.

  • Defenders of the former counsel said he just did what he had to do: Answer questions under oath.
  • "Don had an unenviable job of trying to school the first outsider president in the legal ways of Washington," a source close to McGahn told me.

The big picture: McGahn, as the N.Y. Times foreshadowed in great detail last summer, plays a starring role in the Mueller report.

  • Going by the details McGahn provided to the special counsel's team, the president badly wanted to obstruct justice.
  • And it may have only been because McGahn refused to obey presidential orders that Trump wasn't charged with obstructing justice.
  • McGahn appears on 66 pages of the 448-page report.

Mueller's cinematic detail (page 298):

  • "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 [Deputy Attorney General Rod] 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 called."

"McGahn decided he had to resign," the report continues. "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?'"
  • "That evening, McGahn called both [chief of staff Reince] Priebus and [Steve] Bannon and told them that he intended to resign."
  • "Priebus recalled that McGahn said that the President had asked him to 'do crazy [sh#$],' 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."

Behind the scenes: Going by the rich scenes recorded in the Mueller report, McGahn apparently took extensive notes of his conversations with the president. 

  • In one scene that McGahn recounted to the Mueller team, Trump takes issue with McGahn's note-taking: "The President then asked, 'What-about these notes? Why do you take notes? Lawyers don't take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.'"
  • "McGahn responded that he keeps notes because he is a 'real lawyer' and explained that notes create a record and are not a bad thing."
  • "The President said, 'I've had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He did not take notes.'"

The backstory: Roy Cohn, a Mafia lawyer and political fixer, was a mentor and personal lawyer to Trump during his early career. Trump often privately laments that his current lawyers don't measure up to Cohn.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1 a.m. ET: 664,695 — Total deaths: 30,847 — Total recoveries: 140,156.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 1 a.m. ET: 124,464 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by late Saturday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health

Trump rules out quarantine in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut after pushback

President Trump on the White House grounds on Saturdya. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

President Trump tweeted Saturday night that he's decided not to introduce quarantine enforcement measures fo New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut, but a "strong" travel advisory will be issued for those states. The CDC later announced domestic travel restrictions for the states.

Why it matters: Trump said hours earlier he was considering quarantine measures to combat the rise in novel coronavirus cases. But he received pushback, notably from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who told CNN such a measure would cause "chaos." "This would be a federal declaration of war on states," Cuomo added.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 5 hours ago - Health