House Democrats on Wednesday released the transcript of a recent interview with Don McGahn, who served as White House counsel during the Trump administration.
The transcript (pdf), running 241 pages long, is from a question-and-answer session McGahn sat for on June 4 in Washington before the House Judiciary Committee.
The panel initially subpoenaed McGahn on April 22, 2019, but he declined to appear, and was backed up by several courts. The panel reissued the subpoena on Jan. 11. McGahn last month agreed to appear before the committee. As he answered questions, a lawyer for former President Donald Trump observed, according to the transcript.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats delved into events of the past, including how Trump responded to the investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller. They have accused Trump of interfering in the probe, which ultimately concluded that neither Trump nor his campaign colluded with Russia.
Nadler claimed in a statement that McGahn “provided the Committee with substantial new information—including firsthand accounts of President Trump’s increasingly out of control behavior, and insight into concerns that the former President’s conduct could expose both Trump and McGahn to criminal liability.”
The longtime congressman pointed as evidence to McGahn telling members of the panel that he warned Trump multiple times that he should not attempt to remove Mueller, who was tasked with the probe by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in 2017 after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. Rosenstein directed Mueller to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, including any links between the Russian government and Trump campaign associates.
According to the Mueller report, Trump in the days following his appointment “repeatedly told advisors,” including McGahn, that Mueller had conflicts of interest, including interviewing for the position of FBI director shortly before the appointment, once working for a law firm that represented people linked to Trump, and that Mueller had disputed fees relating to his membership in a Trump-owned golf course in Virginia.
Advisors “pushed back on his assertion of conflicts, telling the President they did not count as true conflicts,” the report states. Trump later prodded McGahn to call Rosenstein to express concerns about the perceived conflicts.
He also said that he avoided calling Rosenstein because he felt it “could cause Rosenstein to think he was being ordered to do something that he would find contrary to his oath of office.”
“And there’s a historical example of that happening. And when that happens, you had a succession of resignations at the Department of Justice. I didn’t want that to happen, so I didn’t call Rod,” he added.
Trump and other administration officials have asserted Mueller interviewed to be Trump’s FBI director before being appointed special counsel. Mueller has denied those assertions. But McGahn backed up Trump.
“We had interviews. Mueller came in. I thought it was an interview,” he said. “Well, the president never offered him the job. That was never a direct part … but [Steve] Bannon’s recollection is consistent with mine, which is part of what Mueller was there to do was to talk about the institution of the FBI and assist the President with his thinking on how the Bureau had functioned in the past and the like,” he added.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that McGahn finally testifying was “a victory for Democracy.”
“It is a resounding vindication of the House’s subpoena powers, which are a pillar of our system of checks of balances that ensure that Congress can pursue the truth for the American people,” she said in a statement.
However, Trump said the testimony revealed nothing significant.
“I have also been totally exonerated in Congress by the testimony of former White House lawyer Don McGahn. It came, it went, and it was a big ‘nothingburger,'” he said in a statement on Thursday.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who is on the Judiciary panel, said on Newsmax recently that McGahn “did not do what Democrats wanted him to do.”
He said he found it “very telling” that McGahn asserted Mueller was interviewed to be FBI director just hours before accepting the special counsel appointment. “It really sheds light on the genesis of the Mueller probe: not illegal conduct, but a desire for retribution,” he said.