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Trump Claimed McGahn Lied Under Oath to Make Himself Look Good. Here’s What the Mueller Report Said.


Former White House counsel Don McGahn, held in contempt by Congress this week for obeying a White House directive not to testify, was thrown under the proverbial bus by President Donald Trump.

Trump, during an interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, said that McGahn’s testimony to then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller was a lie. In other words, Trump said that McGahn lied under oath when he said Trump, on two occasions, asked him to put into motion Mueller’s firing.

The full exchange between Trump and Stephanopoulos:

Trump: Now the story on that very simply: Number one, I was never going to fire Mueller. I never suggested firing Mueller.

Stephanopoulos: That’s not what he says.

Trump: I don’t care what he says. It doesn’t matter. That was to show everyone what a good counsel he was.

Stephanopoulos: But why would he lie under oath to Robert Mueller?

Trump: Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer — or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen, including you, including the media, that Robert Mueller was conflicted. Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest.

Stephanopoulos: — and has to go.

Trump: I didn’t say that.

Stephanopoulos: If you answer these questions to me now, why not answer them to Robert Mueller under oath.

Trump: Because they were looking to get us for lies, for slight misstatements. I looked at what happened to people and it was very unfair, very, very unfair. Very unfair. I gave them 1.5 million documents, right? I gave them four or five hundred witnesses. I let Don McGahn testify. He was the White House counsel. I let him testify.

Stephanopoulos: But you didn’t answer questions on obstruction.

Trump: Now, wait a minute. I did answer questions. I answered them in writing.

Stephanopoulos: — not on obstruction.

Trump: I don’t know. I answered a lot of questions. They gave me questions, I answered them in writing.

Stephanopoulos: — not on obstruction.

Trump: Look, George. You’re being a little wiseguy, okay? Which is, you know, typical for you. Just so you understand, it’s very simple: There was no crime, there was no collusion.

In summary: Trump claimed McGahn either lied under oath about directives to get Robert Mueller fired in order to make himself look like a good lawyer or misunderstood something Trump said. It should also be mentioned that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said publicly that 1) Mueller did not ask Trump to provide written answers about obstruction and 2) said that Trump would not answer questions about obstruction.

Here’s what the Mueller Report had to say about all of this. There was an entire section in Mueller’s obstruction volume on Trump ordering McGahn to deny that he tried to get Mueller fired. McGahn refused to do so because press accounts about this were “accurate.”

In late January 2018, the media reported that in June 2017 the President had ordered McGahn to have the Special Counsel fired based on purported conflicts of interest but McGahn had refused, saying he would quit instead. After the story broke, the President, through his personal counsel and two aides, sought to have McGahn deny that he had been directed to remove the Special Counsel. Each time he was approached, McGahn responded that he would not refute the press accounts because they were accurate in reporting on the President’s effort to have the Special Counsel removed. The President later personally met with McGahn in the Oval Office with only the Chief of Staff present and tried to get McGahn to say that the President never ordered him to fire the Special Counsel. McGahn refused and insisted his memory of the President’s direction to remove the Special Counsel was accurate. In that same meeting, the President challenged McGahn for taking notes of his discussions with the President and asked why he had told Special Counsel investigators that he had been directed to have the Special Counsel removed.

McGahn’s response when Trump asked “Did I say the word ‘fire’?” 

“What you said is, ‘Call Rod [Rosenstein], planned to resign, but said that the story was otherwise accurate. tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can’t be the Special Counsel.”‘ “I never said that.” The President said he merely wanted McGahn to raise the conflicts issue with Rosenstein and leave it to him to decide what to do. McGahn told the President he did not understand the conversation that way and instead had heard, “Call Rod. There are conflicts. Mueller has to go.” The President asked McGahn whether he would “do a correction,” and McGahn said no. McGahn thought the President was testing his mettle to see how committed McGahn was to what happened.° [John] Kelly described the meeting as “a little tense.”

Why McGahn felt he had to tell Mueller this:

The President also asked McGahn in the meeting why he had told Special Counsel’s Office investigators that the President had told him to have the Special Counsel removed. McGahn responded that he had to and that his conversations with the President were not protected by attorney-client privilege. The President then asked, “What about these notes? Why do you take that he keeps notes because he is a “real lawyer” and explained that notes create a record and are notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.” not a bad thing. The President said, “I’ve had a lot ofgreat lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He did not take notes.

A reason why McGahn didn’t carry out what he believed was an order to get Mueller fired:

On June 17, 2017, the President called McGahn at home and directed him to call the Acting Attorney General and say that the Special Counsel had conflicts of interest and must be removed. McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre.

What all of this indicated about the validity of the evidence:

And when the President spoke with McGahn in the Oval Office, he focused on whether he had used the word “fire,” saying, “I never said to fire Mueller. I never said ‘ fire”‘ and “Did I say the word ‘fire’?” The President’s assertion in the Oval Office meeting that he had never directed McGahn to have the Special Counsel removed thus runs counter to the evidence.

In addition, even if the President sincerely disagreed with McGahn’s memory of the June 17, 2017 events, the evidence indicates that the President knew by the time of the Oval Office meeting that McGahn’s account differed and that McGahn was firm in his views.

What this indicated about Trump’s intent:

Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn’s account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President’s conduct towards the investigation.

Law&Crime has reached out to a McGahn attorney for comment on the president’s accusation that McGahn lied under oath.

[Image via Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.