White House asked McGahn to declare Trump never obstructed justice
White House officials asked at least twice in the past month for the key witness against President Donald Trump in the Mueller report, Donald McGahn, to say publicly that he never believed the president obstructed justice, according to two people briefed on the requests.
Trump asked White House officials to make the request to McGahn, who was the president’s first White House counsel, one of the people said. McGahn declined. His reluctance angered the president, who believed that McGahn showed disloyalty by telling investigators for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, about Trump’s attempts to maintain control over the Russia investigation.
The White House made one of the requests to McGahn’s lawyer, William A. Burck, before the Mueller report was released publicly but after the Justice Department gave a copy to Trump’s lawyers in the preceding days. Reading the report, the president’s lawyers saw that Mueller left out that McGahn had told investigators that he believed the president never obstructed justice. Burck had told them months earlier about his client’s belief on the matter and that he had shared it with investigators.
McGahn initially entertained the White House request. “We did not perceive it as any kind of threat or something sinister,” Burck said in a statement. “It was a request, professionally and cordially made.”
But after the report was released, detailing the range of actions Trump took to try to impede the inquiry, McGahn decided to pass on putting out a statement supportive of the president. The report also revealed that Trump told aides he believed McGahn had leaked to the news media to make himself look good.
The episodes show the lengths the White House has gone around the release of the Mueller report to push back on the notion that Trump obstructed justice. House Democrats have used the report to open investigations into whether Trump abused his position to insulate himself from the Russia inquiry.