Don McGahn, the White House counsel, has been cooperating extensively with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation largely in order to shield himself from charges, The New York Times reported Saturday.
McGahn has even divulged information that investigators would not have otherwise been aware of, such as President Donald Trump’s push to fire the special counsel, the paper reported. The Times cited interviews with a dozen current and former White House staffers regarding interviews with McGahn spanning some 30 hours.
The attorney’s cooperation stemmed from an initial recommendation by the president’s original lawyers John Dowd and Ty Cobb, who argued that if Trump has nothing to hide, why not cooperate fully? But McGahn had a change of heart.
He and his own attorney became suspicious of Trump’s desire to allow his White House counsel to speak so freely with Mueller, who is investigating whether Russia colluded with the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
McGahn began to fear that Trump was setting him up to take the blame for any possible obstruction charges, according to the Times. And so he started talking more ― to protect himself.
The paper estimates that McGahn gave investigators “a mix” of damaging and favorable information on Trump, noting that as White House counsel, McGahn serves the office of the presidency, not Trump personally.
McGahn is especially useful to Mueller because he has been “directly involved in nearly every episode they are scrutinizing to determine whether the president obstructed justice,” the paper said. Those included the president’s push to reinstall Attorney General Jeff Sessions as head of the probe, his decision to fire the FBI Director James Comey and his decision to fire national security adviser Michael Flynn.
In a post to his personal Twitter account, the president asserted that he was actually behind McGahn’s cooperation.
“I allowed White House Counsel Don McGahn, and all other requested members of the White House Staff, to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel,” the post said, claiming more than a million pages of documents had been turned over to investigators.
McGahn and Trump have at times clashed. Multiple news outlets reported that McGahn threatened to quit in June 2017 when Trump ordered him to fire the special counsel. But the Times now describes a distant relationship between the two men, with McGahn calling the president “King Kong” behind his back.
The White House counsel and his attorney eventually came to determine they had “overestimated the amount of thought” Trump put into his legal strategy, the Times reported, quelling McGahn’s fears.
Trump’s current personal legal team is attempting to negotiate narrow terms for an interview with Mueller. Although the president believes he can clear his name, he has yet to sit down to an interview in the Russia investigation he so frequently mocks.
This story has been updated with Trump’s response on Twitter.