Trump’s Former Counsel Don McGahn Testifies to House Panel
(Bloomberg) -- Former White House Counsel Donald McGahn was questioned for hours Friday by House Judiciary Committee Democrats about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether then-President Donald Trump tried to head it off.
Few explosive or timely new revelations were expected from the closed-door interview. But McGahn’s appearance marked the end of a two-year legal standoff over whether an executive branch official could be forced to testify to Congress, even if his appearance did not provide either side with a clear-cut legal victory.
Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, and other panel members from both parties were limited in what they could ask McGahn under an “agreement in principle” worked out among McGahn’s lawyers, President Joe Biden’s Justice Department, and House legal counsel.
Nadler, in a statement on Friday evening, said despite the restrictions imposed on the proceeding, “Mr. McGahn testified at length to an extremely dangerous period in our nation’s history — in which President Trump, increasingly unhinged and fearful of his own liability, attempted to obstruct the Mueller investigation at every turn. Mr. McGahn was clearly distressed by President Trump’s refusal to follow his legal advice, again and again, and he shed new light on several troubling events today.”
McGahn did not speak to reporters afterward.
Justice Department lawyers were in the room as he underwent questioning, and could choose to raise objections on behalf of the executive branch.
“I think he’s being somewhat difficult,” Nadler said earlier, declining to go into details about what topics were discussed. “But you’ll see that when the transcript comes out.”
A transcript is supposed to be publicly released within seven days. But Nadler said he was unsure when it would become available because it first will be reviewed by lawyers for the Justice Department, Trump and McGahn.
Committee Democrats and Republicans took turns questioning McGahn, in one-hour turns a side. Nadler said six or seven Democrats were in the room, along with Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the panel, and Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican.
Jordan and Gaetz said McGahn did not provide new information or describe unlawful conduct by Trump.
Jordan said McGahn had already testified for some 30 hours in the Mueller investigation, and that, “today we have House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee relitigating the Mueller report.”
Gaetz said “We’ve learned nothing new.”
“The expectation was that Don McGahn would be some sort of essential witness bringing new information worthy of years of litigation and countless taxpayer dollars spent on this endeavor,” he added.
But Representative Madeleine Dean, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said McGahn’s “words and his demeanor” during the questioning brought to life “the pressure that was on him from the president, multiples” to oust Mueller.
“Pressure, pressure, pressure,” she said.
McGahn left his job as White House counsel in October 2018 and is now a partner at the law firm of Jones Day. He did not return a telephone call to his office on Thursday.
The battle over McGahn’s testimony has centered on the publicly released portions of his testimony to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, some of it describing how Trump allegedly tried to interfere with or quash Mueller’s inquiry, including by trying to fire Mueller himself.
McGahn is described in the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election as a witness to episodes that prompted Mueller to later say that he could not clear Trump of obstruction of justice. House Democrats were expected to press him for more details of those incidents, detailed in the second part of Mueller’s redacted report.
For instance, according to the report, Trump asked McGahn to tell the then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that Mueller himself has conflicts that would prevent him from serving as special counsel. McGahn is reported to have said he took this to mean Trump was asking him to remove Mueller from the investigation.
But under the ground rules for Friday’s interview, McGahn could only be questioned about “the publicly available portions of the Mueller report and events that the publicly available portions of the Mueller report indicate involved Mr. McGahn.” He could also be asked whether the report accurately reflected his statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and whether he was truthful in making those statements.
McGahn was not able to assert executive privilege regarding these questions. But Justice Department lawyers could do so, and the committee would retain its right to challenge any such claim.
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