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House Judiciary Committee Releases Transcript of Interview with Former White House Counsel Don McGahn

Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) released a transcript of the Committee’s June 4 interview with Donald F. McGahn, former White House Counsel.

Chairman Nadler issued the following statement on the release of the transcript:

“Mr. 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.  Mr. McGahn also confirmed that President Trump lied when he denied the accuracy of the Mueller report, and admitted that he was the source for a Washington Post report that confirmed Trump’s direction to McGahn to remove the Special Counsel.

“All told, Mr. McGahn’s testimony gives us a fresh look at how dangerously close President Trump brought us to, in Mr. McGahn’s words, the ‘point of no return.’”

The full transcript is available here. Key quotes from Mr. McGahn’s testimony can be found below.

McGahn described President Trump’s conduct over the course of the Mueller investigation as increasingly erratic.  The President’s directions to McGahn were “crazy shit” that threatened to “spiral out of control” and to a “point of no return.”

  • “[W]hat I was not going to do is cause any sort of chain reaction that would cause this to spiral out of control in a way that wasn’t in the best interests . . . of my client, which was the President.” (40)
  • “This was sort of my Irish Blarney way of explaining what I tried to explain earlier, that if I, as counsel to the President, called the Acting Attorney General and conveyed an urgent message about the need for the Special Counsel to not be permitted to serve because of conflicts, that 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 have had a succession of resignations at the Department of Justice.” (46)
  • “‘Inflection point,’ with that I meant a point of no return.  If the Acting Attorney General received what he thought was a direction from the counsel to the President to remove a special counsel, he would either have to remove the special counsel or resign.  We are still talking about the ‘Saturday Night Massacre’ decades and decades later.” (46)
  • “After I got off the phone with the President, how did I feel?  Oof.  Frustrated, perturbed, trapped.  Many emotions.” (122)
  • [After reading testimony from former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who said that the President had asked McGahn to “do crazy shit.”]

Q.  So, even if you don’t recall saying those specific words, is that a fair characterization of how you viewed the President’s request?

A.  Well, the President probably thinks this is an unfair characterization, but I …

Q.  I'm asking for your opinion.

A.  … I think it’s fair. (103)

  • [After being asked about the President’s request to Priebus to force Sessions to resign]

Q.  So there could potentially have been legal implications for removing the Attorney General. 

A.  Sure.  Just because the initial act is legal doesn't mean it couldn’t cause other issues that raise legal problems.  Happens all the time. (234)

McGahn repeatedly warned President Trump that “knocking out Mueller” might constitute obstruction of justice and both McGahn and the President worried about their own liability if they played any part in the obstruction.

  • Q.  Was it your understanding that the President was concerned that him asking you to have the special counsel removed could be harmful to him in the special counsel's investigation?

A.  Certainly, yeah. (158)

  •  Q.  Well, you had previously advised the President that [] quote, “knocking out Mueller,” end quote, would be, quote, “another fact used to claim obstruction of justice.” … Were you concerned that, if you had any part in removing Mueller, that could be a fact to use to claim obstruction of justice?

A.  My own concern?  Sure, yeah. (93-94)

President Trump directed McGahn to write a false statement—knowing that the statement was false, and knowing that carrying out this order might expose McGahn to criminal liability, including prosecution by the Special Counsel.

  • Q.  If you had put out the statement the President was requesting, disputing that the President ever asked you to have the special counsel removed by Rosenstein, would that have been accurate?

A.  That statement would not have been accurate.  (152)

  • Q.  So by February of 2018, the President was very aware that it was a Federal crime to lie to the special counsel and you could be indicted for doing so, correct?

A.  Suppose so, yeah.  (164)

  • “Given his track record of prosecuting people for violations of [18 U.S.C.] 1001, I would have probably been next.  He had already publicly made clear he was going after various people for that, and that certainly is one that would weigh on anybody’s mind.” (113)

Although President Trump has since called McGahn a “lying bastard,” McGahn stands by his testimony to the Special Counsel.

  • Q.  According to [former White House Staff Secretary Rob] Porter’s statements, the President also told him during that conversation that the article was, quote, “BS,” and claimed—it uses the full word—and claimed that he had not sought to terminate the special counsel, referring to you as a “lying bastard.”  Did Porter convey that to you when you spoke to him?

A.  Not that I recall, no.  I think I learned [] I learned about that one once the Mueller report was released.

Q.  And was your reaction when you learned that?

A.  Disappointing. 

Q.  Why?

A.  Well, because it’s not true. (126)

President Trump clearly lied when he told the press that he “never suggested firing Mueller.”

  • “Well, you know, he certainly entertained the idea.  Certainly seemed to ask a number of people about it.  Certainly had a number of conversations with me about something along those lines.  And, you know, I’ve learned other things in the report; apparently, that he had a conversation with Chris Christie on the same topic.  So, you know, it was disappointing that he’d come out and say, oh, it was never on the table when, certainly, at least the conflict of interest issue and whether that would preclude Mueller from being special counsel, certainly was discussed.” (166)

McGahn acknowledged that he was the source for a Washington Post report that President Trump had ordered him to remove the Special Counsel.

“I did talk to The Washington Post.  I was a source for that second story over whether or not . . . because the press shop did not seem to be knowing how to get out that I never told the President directly I was going to resign….” (124)
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