The New York Times has reported that White House Counsel Don McGhan has cooperated fully and extensively with the Mueller investigation. Indeed, over the last 9 months, McGhan has spent over 30 hours testifying to the Mueller team. The revelation is astounding in its impact, and puts McGhan in a perilous situation that I will attempt to analyze.
But, first, some details, or excerpts into exactly what McGahn did:
In at least three voluntary interviews with investigators that totaled 30 hours over the past nine months, Mr. McGahn described the president’s fury toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which he urged Mr. McGahn to respond to it. He provided the investigators examining whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice a clear view of the president’s most intimate moments with his lawyer.
The Times is not being sufficiently careful – in my mind – with its language here. “Most intimate moments with HIS lawyer” is not written with the precision required for such a delicate topic.
Don McGhan is “White House Counsel” – in that role, he give “The President” and other White House officials guidance on the legal implications of certain actions, the legal impact of certain legislation, and represents the White House’s legal position with respect to issues brought to its attention. What Don McGhan is NOT, is he is not Donald Trump’s personal lawyer. That is precisely why Trump had to hire a team of lawyer to represent him in the criminal investigation. So, the NYT’ writes too loosely in stating “intimate moments with his lawyer.”
Though I personally believe that McGhan had the right to speak with the Special Counsel all along about any actions undertaken by Trump – so long as McGhan made it clear to Trump that as White House Counsel he represented Official White House / Presidential actions, and that attorney-client privilege did NOT apply to their conversations – so long as McGhan did that, I believe he had the right all along to speak to Mueller and be very open.
But, apparently the Trump legal team – in its initial form – gave McGhan open permission to speak to Mueller, believing that they had nothing to hide (the lawyers believing he had nothing to hide, perhaps not Trump). After that initial decision, McGhan continued to speak to the Special Counsel on a wide range of topics:
In fact, Mr. McGahn laid out how Mr. Trump tried to ensure control of the investigation, giving investigators a mix of information both potentially damaging and favorable to the president. Mr. McGahn cautioned to investigators that he never saw Mr. Trump go beyond his legal authorities, though the limits of executive power are murky.
With respect to obstruction of justice, this is absolutely devastating. Mueller will have every single action taken by Trump to impact the investigation, this is mind-bending in its scope and depth.
Apparently, the relationship is complicated and now antagonistic:
But the two rarely speak one on one — the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and other advisers are usually present for their meetings — and Mr. Trump has questioned Mr. McGahn’s loyalty. In turn, Mr. Trump’s behavior has so exasperated Mr. McGahn that he has called the president “King Kong” behind his back, to connote his volcanic anger, people close to Mr. McGahn said.
We know that “loyalty” is everything to Trump. He expects everyone around him to be ready to destroy their careers and future if it helps Donald Trump in that moment – that is the “loyalty” Trump expects and it is definitely a ONE WAY street, loyalty avenue.
Regardless, I believe McGhan has done the right thing as an attorney. So long as McGhan laid out at some point that certain conversations with him will not be subject to attorney-client privilege (such as “if you are asking me to participate in a crime, or I witness criminal behavior as White House counsel, I am not your personal attorney and I will not be bound by attorney client privilege to talk about it”) than I think McGhan has finessed the situation perfectly. McGhan ensured that he cannot be caught up in any obstruction charge, certainly not any conspiracy.
The implications of the revelation have reverberated strongly:
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) August 18, 2018
Mueller's team has a great cooperator in the White House: Trump's top lawyer, Don McGahn. Trump and McGahn have a complicated, mutually beneficial but ultimately terrible relationship — so bad McGahn calls Trump "King Kong" behind his back. w/@maggieNYT https://t.co/GGss1IlqLE
— Michael S. Schmidt (@nytmike) August 18, 2018
We know the story hit some hard truths because Trump immediately took to Twitter and labeled the entire thing “fake” – as is his tendency with all things true and bad for him.
The Failing New York Times wrote a story that made it seem like the White House Councel had TURNED on the President, when in fact it is just the opposite – & the two Fake reporters knew this. This is why the Fake News Media has become the Enemy of the People. So bad for America!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2018
Were that not enough, he had to do another one:
Some members of the media are very Angry at the Fake Story in the New York Times. They actually called to complain and apologize – a big step forward. From the day I announced, the Times has been Fake News, and with their disgusting new Board Member, it will only get worse!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2018
Perhaps other newspapers will demand to be called “failing” in order to stand alongside the Times in its reporting, just like other heroes have said they want their clearances revoked.
Whatever else, we know that this revelation has rocked the White House and Trump personally. McGhan likely gave Mueller precious insight into how Trump operates when he thinks no one is watching. We know that Trump has committed obstruction in any number of ways. Perhaps McGhan also witnessed acts in conspiracy with Russia.
TWITTER: @MiciakZoom – having a great weekend, lots of re-tweets of good stuff, and wide ranging topics.