Trump’s former White House counsel says he felt ‘frustrated, perturbed, trapped’ when Trump asked him to help fire Mueller

Trump McGahn
Trump and Don McGahn.

  • Trump’s ex-White House counsel said he felt “frustrated, perturbed, trapped” when Trump asked for his help firing Mueller.
  • He also said that he tried to “get off the phone” when Trump raised the subject.
  • Don McGahn made the comments while testifying to Congress last week about the Mueller probe.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former White House counsel Don McGahn testified to Congress last week that he felt “trapped” when then President Donald Trump asked him to help engineer the removal of the special counsel Robert Mueller during the Russia investigation.

McGahn was a central witness in Mueller’s inquiry into whether Trump obstructed justice as part of the Russia probe. Last week, in closed-door testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, McGahn recounted what it was like when Trump called him in 2017 and asked him to direct then acting attorney general Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller.

Mueller’s report said that after Trump made his demands clear, McGahn told the president that he would look into it. Sarah Istel, the judiciary committee’s lead counsel, asked McGahn about those comments last week.

“‘McGahn said he told the president that he would see what he could do,'” Istel said, reading from Mueller’s final report. “Do you recall saying that to the president?”

“I did say that, yeah,” McGahn replied.

“Did you intend to see what you could do?” she asked.

“No,” he said.

“Then why did you say that to the president?” Istel asked.

“I was trying to get off the phone,” McGahn said.

Istel later asked McGahn whether he felt concerned about his own potential liability and whether his involvement in orchestrating Mueller’s removal could make him a target of the obstruction investigation.

McGahn said he was, adding, “I was concerned about, if I were going to reach out to Rod, Rod’s reaction, how it would be perceived after the fact, and that it would cause potential eventualities to occur that would not be in anybody’s interests, including my own.”

“To answer the question you asked before, I did not want to insert myself into something that would cause me to be my own – that would compromise my own ability to remain as counsel,” he said.

Istel also asked McGahn how he felt after he got off the phone the second time Trump asked him to order Rosenstein to remove Mueller.

“Oof,” McGahn replied. “Frustrated, perturbed, trapped. Many emotions.” He also said he felt “concerned.”

When Istel asked him to elaborate why he felt that way, McGahn replied, “Felt trapped because the president had the same conversation with me repeatedly, and I thought I conveyed my views and offered my advice, and we were still having the same conversation.”

He continued: “And I figured, at some point, he’d want to have that conversation again. And, at that point, I wasn’t exactly sure how – how to navigate that one, so I felt that I was trapped.”

“We kept having the same conversation, so he wasn’t taking the answer the first time or subsequent times,” McGahn said.

Indeed, as Mueller’s final report said, McGahn felt so cornered by Trump’s repeated demand that he decided to resign.

“McGahn spoke with the President twice and understood the directive the same way both times, making it unlikely that he misheard or misinterpreted the President’s request,” the report said. “In response to that request, McGahn decided to quit. He called his lawyer, drove to the White House, packed up his office, prepared to submit a resignation letter with his chief of staff, told [then-White House Chief of Staff Reince] Preibus that the President had asked him to ‘do crazy shit.'”

McGahn ultimately stayed on as White House counsel but resigned in October 2018, six months before Mueller’s report was released to the public.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Trump’s former White House counsel testified that there was ‘never really a good beginning, middle, and end’ to their conversations

WASHINGTON D.C., May 21, 2019 -- Then White House counsel Don McGahn reacts in the audience during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the United States, on Sept. 4, 2018. The White House on Monday instructed former counsel Don McGahn to defy a congressional subpoena and skip a hearing scheduled for Tuesday relating to the Russia probe. (Xinhua/Ting Shen) (Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images)
Don McGahn.

  • Trump’s ex-White House counsel testified that there was no good “beginning, middle, and end” to their conversations.
  • “You rarely leave conversations with President Trump,” he said. “It’s just – especially when you’re the counsel. You’re always kind of around.”
  • McGahn was a key figure in the Mueller probe and said Trump told him to “do crazy s—” to stop the investigation.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former White House counsel Don McGahn told Congress this month that there was never a good “beginning, middle, and end” to his conversations with Donald Trump when Trump was president.

McGahn served as White House counsel for nearly two years before resigning in October 2018. He was a central witness in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice in the FBI’s Russia probe. After months of battling Congress’s requests for testimony, McGahn finally appeared behind closed doors last week. The House Judiciary Committee released a transcript of McGahn’s testimony on Wednesday.

At one point, the lead counsel for the House Judiciary Committee asked McGahn about one of the episodes Mueller highlighted in his report connected to the obstruction probe. Specifically, Trump told McGahn in the midst of the Russia investigation that he wanted to fire Mueller. McGahn refused and said doing so could be “another fact used to claim of obstruction of justice.”

The committee’s counsel, Sarah Istel, asked McGahn what other facts he was referring to during that conversation.

McGahn mentioned other data points in the obstruction probe including Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey and his efforts to stop Comey from investigating former national security advisor Michael Flynn.

McGahn stopped short of saying these instances definitively constituted obstruction but said he was concerned about how they could be perceived by the public.

After some back and forth about the semantics of McGahn’s claim that firing Mueller could be “another fact” used to claim he obstructed justice, Istel asked McGahn about his assessment that Trump could face the “biggest exposure” from his efforts to hamper Comey’s investigation into Flynn.

McGahn said he didn’t remember if he specifically used the word “exposure” but specified that he didn’t believe Comey’s removal was a legal issue for Trump because the president has the power to fire the FBI director.

“The real issues were more around former Director Comey’s recounting of meetings” and conversations he had with Trump, during which Trump asked him to lay off of investigating Flynn and demanded Comey’s loyalty.

“That was more, as a lawyer, where I was looking to alert the president,” McGahn said.

Istel then asked McGahn how he ended that conversation with Trump.

“No, I don’t recall. No,” he said. “You rarely leave conversations with President Trump. There’s never really a good beginning, middle, and end. It’s just – especially when you’re the counsel. You’re always kind of around.”

Indeed, McGahn’s name surfaced several times in Mueller’s report, including once when the special counsel detailed his reaction to Trump’s directive that Mueller be fired.

“McGahn spoke with the President twice and understood the directive the same way both times, making it unlikely that he misheard or misinterpreted the President’s request,” the report said. “In response to that request, McGahn decided to quit. He called his lawyer, drove to the White House, packed up his office, prepared to submit a resignation letter with his chief of staff, told [then-White House Chief of Staff Reince] Priebus that the President had asked him to ‘do crazy s—.'”

Read the original article on Business Insider

AG Garland defends the DOJ’s decision to endorse controversial Trump-era moves, saying there isn’t ‘one rule for friends and another for foes’

Merrick Garland
Demetrius Freeman/Getty Images

  • AG Merrick Garland defended the DOJ’s decision to back several “controversial” Trump-era decisions.
  • The DOJ’s actions drew sharp criticism from Democrats and Trump critics who demanded transparency.
  • But Garland said on Wednesday that there isn’t “one rule for friends and another for foes.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday addressed the Justice Department’s decision to back some “controversial” Trump-era decisions, including its move to defend Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who accused him of rape, and its move to shield an internal memo related to Trump from the public.

Democrats and Trump critics have sharply criticized the department over those decisions, but Garland said during a congressional budget hearing Wednesday that there is “not one rule for friends and another for foes.”

“The job of the Justice Department in making decisions of law is not to back any administration, previous or present,” Garland told lawmakers at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing about the 2022 budget. “Our job is to represent the American people. And our job in doing so is to ensure adherence to the rule of law, which is a fundamental requirement of a democracy or a republic or a representative democracy.”

He went on to note that the foundation of the rule of law “is that like cases be treated alike, there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, that there not be one rule for friends and another for foes.”

“It is not always easy to apply that rule,” Garland said. “Sometimes it means that we have to make a decision about the law that we would never have made and that we strongly disagree with as a matter of policy. But in every case, the job of the Justice Department is to make the best judgment it can as to what the law requires.”

Garland’s testimony stood in sharp contrast to that of Bill Barr, who made headlines during his tenure as attorney general for going to bat for Trump and frequently turning the department into a mouthpiece for the Trump White House.

One of the episodes at the center of the controversy Garland addressed Wednesday relates to an Office of Legal Counsel memo that Barr used to clear Trump of obstruction-of-justice following Mueller’s investigation.

Barr’s decision ignited a firestorm and accusations that he was shielding Trump from being held accountable for his myriad efforts to obstruct Mueller’s investigation, which were outlined at length in the special counsel’s final report of his findings.

Barr cited the OLC’s memo in a letter justifying his decision-making process in the obstruction investigation. Last month, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson accused Barr of misleading the public and ordered the Justice Department to release the document in its entirety.

Shortly after, the Justice Department under Garland announced its intention to appeal Jackson’s ruling, saying that “irreparable harm” would be caused by the release of the full document.

It also addressed Jackson’s assessment that the government’s briefs related to the Mueller report and the OLC memo “incorrectly described the nature of the decisional process in which the Attorney General was engaged.”

“In retrospect, the government acknowledges that its briefs could have been clearer, and it deeply regrets the confusion that caused,” the department said in its filing requesting an appeal, adding that government lawyers “did not intend to mislead the Court” and that “imprecision in its characterization of the decisional process” did not warrant the full release of the memo.

The Justice Department’s decision to appeal Jackson’s ruling was one of several that have put it at loggerheads with the Biden White House.

Last week, the department came under fire when it was reported that it continued the Trump administration’s behind-the-scenes efforts to obtain the email logs of several New York Times reporters. After Biden came out in opposition to the practice, the department reversed course and said it would no longer seize reporters’ records.

And earlier this week, the Justice Department again sent shockwaves through legal and political circles when it said it would continue defending Trump in the defamation lawsuit brought by the former columnist E. Jean Carroll, who alleges that Trump raped her.

The White House sharply criticized the decision and confirmed that the Justice Department did not consult it before moving forward.

“While we are not going to comment on this ongoing litigation, the American people know well that President Biden and his team have utterly different standards from their predecessors for what qualify as acceptable statements,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said.

C. Ryan Barber contributed reporting.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Prosecutors are examining if Matt Gaetz obstructed justice in the sex-trafficking investigation into him, report says

Matt Gaetz
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks as the House Judiciary Committee hears investigative findings in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

  • Prosecutors are examining whether Rep. Matt Gaetz obstructed justice, Politico reported Wednesday.
  • The probe concerns a call Gaetz made to a witness in the sex-trafficking probe he is the subject of.
  • Gaetz has denied the allegations against him, including that he paid for sex with a minor.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Prosecutors are looking into whether Rep. Matt Gaetz obstructed justice in the sex-trafficking investigation that he is the subject of, Politico reported Wednesday.

The Justice Department is investigating if the Florida congressman violated federal sex-trafficking laws and had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl.

Sources told Politico that the obstruction of justice probe concerns a call Gaetz had with a witness in the case. The witness was on the phone with Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend, who then dialed in the congressman. The contents of the call are not clear, but they will determine if Gaetz is charged with obstruction, the outlet reported.

Read more: Democrat Nikki Fried wants be Florida’s next governor. But she’s tight with Matt Gaetz and political operatives say it could hurt her chances of toppling Ron DeSantis.

Obstruction of justice is an act that “influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice.”

Gaetz has denied all of the allegations against him. A spokesperson for Gaetz did not respond to Insider’s request for comment on the obstruction of justice inquiry, but one said in a statement to Politico the congressman has not broken any laws.

“Congressman Gaetz pursues justice, he doesn’t obstruct it,” the statement said.

Gaetz ex-girlfriend, for her part, is seeking a deal over concerns she might have violated obstruction of justice laws, Politico reported. CNN reported in May one of Gaetz’s ex-girlfriends was cooperating with prosecutors, though it’s unclear if it’s the same ex-girlfriend involved in the call with the witness.

The investigation into Gaetz, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, reportedly stemmed from an investigation into another Florida Republican, former tax official Joel Greenberg, who is an associate of Gaetz.

In May, Greenberg pleaded guilty to six felony counts, including the sex trafficking of a child, and agreed to cooperate with the US government on the investigation and prosecution of others.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A federal judge ordered the DOJ to release a memo that Bill Barr used to clear Trump of obstruction of justice, saying ‘it is time for the public to see’ it

GettyImages-william-barr
Former Attorney General William Barr.

  • A federal judge ordered the DOJ to turn over an internal memo related to the Mueller probe.
  • Bill Barr cited the memo as the basis for his decision to clear Trump of obstruction of justice.
  • “It is time for the public to see that [the memo], too,” the judge said in Tuesday’s ruling.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Justice Department to turn over an internal memo that then-Attorney General Bill Barr cited as justification for clearing then-President Donald Trump for obstruction of justice.

Barr said at the time that he’d come to his decision “in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other Department lawyers” but did not publicize the OLC’s memo. In response, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to obtain the memo.

In Tuesday’s ruling, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the unreleased OLC memo that Barr used to clear Trump of obstruction actually “contradicts” his claim that the decision to charge the president was “under his purview” because the special counsel Robert Mueller did not “resolve the question of whether the evidence would support a prosecution.”

Barr announced the decision to clear Trump in a four-page letter to Congress in March 2019 summarizing Mueller’s findings in the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.

“The letter asserted that the Special Counsel ‘did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction,’ and it went on to announce the Attorney General’s own opinion that ‘the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,'” Jackson wrote.

However, the OLC’s memo “calls into question the accuracy of Attorney General Barr’s March 24 representation to Congress,” and it “raises serious questions about how the Department of Justice could make this series of representations to a court,” the ruling said.

Jackson pointed out that Mueller himself criticized Barr’s handling of the public release of the report and his description of the special counsel’s conclusions.

On April 18, 2019, Barr “appeared before Congress to deliver the report,” Jackson wrote. “He asserted that he and the Deputy Attorney General reached the conclusion he had announced in the March 24 letter ‘in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other Department lawyers.'”

“What remains at issue today is a memorandum to the Attorney General dated March 24, 2019, that specifically addresses the subject matter of the letter transmitted to Congress,” she added, referring to the OLC memo.

She continued: “It is time for the public to see that, too.”

Mueller’s findings in the obstruction investigation were widely discussed when his final report was released in April 2019.

He laid out 11 potential instances of obstruction by Trump, but the special counsel declined to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment.”

Barr told reporters Mueller’s decision was not influenced by longstanding Justice Department guidelines that state a sitting president cannot be indicted. He said that in fact, Mueller’s determination – or lack thereof – was prompted by the inconclusive nature of the evidence.

But in his report, Mueller did not cite the nature of, or lack of, evidence as a reason he did not come to a decision on obstruction. He did, however, cite the OLC’s 1973 memo saying that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.

Moreover, the special counsel’s team said (emphasis ours) that “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.” The team continued: “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

Read the original article on Business Insider