- President Donald Trump targeted the former White House counsel Don McGahn in an early-morning tweetstorm Friday, the day after the special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report in the Russia investigation dropped.
- The report described a meeting between Trump and McGahn in which the president asked McGahn why he took notes of their meetings. McGahn replied that he did so because he was a “real lawyer.”
- On Friday, Trump tweeted: “Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue. Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes,’ when the notes never existed until needed.”
- McGahn was a critical figure in the obstruction-of-justice thread of Mueller’s investigation, and the president’s legal team is said to have been particularly worried about what he told the special counsel about his conversations with Trump.
- Trump said he’d “had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn,” according to McGahn. “He did not take notes.”
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In a tweetstorm early Friday morning, President Donald Trump appeared to take aim at one of the most prominent people featured in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report in the Russia investigation.
“Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue,” the president tweeted. “Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes,’ when the notes never existed until needed.”
Trump added: “I never agreed to testify, it was not necessary for me to respond to statements made in the ‘Report’ about me, some of which are total bulls— & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad). This was an Illegally Started Hoax that never should have happened…”
In his tweets, the president appeared to be referring to the former White House counsel Don McGahn, who Mueller’s report said took extensive notes of his conversations with the president.
McGahn told prosecutors that Trump called him twice and ordered him to tell Rod Rosenstein, then the acting attorney general, that Mueller had conflicts of interest and needed to be removed.
McGahn said he agreed to do so to get off the phone but planned to resign rather than carry out Trump’s directive.
He then told Reince Priebus and Stephen Bannon – who at the time were respectively the White House’s chief of staff and chief strategist – of his plans to quit. Priebus told prosecutors McGahn didn’t provide any more information, other than saying Trump had asked him to “do crazy s—.”
Later, Trump asked McGahn about notes he had taken of their meetings, according to Mueller’s report.
“Lawyers don’t take notes,” McGahn recalled Trump saying. “I never had a lawyer who took notes.”
McGahn replied that he took notes because he was a “real lawyer” and that notes created a written record and were not a bad thing.
Trump then said he’d “had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn,” according to McGahn. “He did not take notes.”
Cohn served as chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the infamous 1954 “red scare” hearings, in which the Wisconsin Republican sought to root out supposed communist elements in the US military.
Cohn counseled Trump as early as the 1970s, when the future president was beginning his rise as a New York real-estate magnate. Cohn was disbarred in 1986 for ethics violations and died later that year.
McGahn was a central figure in Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice case against Trump, and he voluntarily sat down for over 30 hours of interviews with the special counsel’s office last year.
Trump’s legal team, moreover, is said to have been particularly worried about what McGahn might have told Mueller about his conversations with the president. Indeed, he was mentioned in multiple portions of the Mueller report, which laid out potentially incriminating evidence of obstruction by Trump.
Mueller’s report landed with a bang on Thursday. Attorney General William Barr said in his initial review of Mueller’s findings that the investigation did not establish that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government.
Barr also made his own determination that Trump did not obstruct justice after Mueller declined to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” on the matter.
Trump’s allies seized on the attorney general’s statements – which he repeated in congressional testimony and during a controversial news conference Thursday morning – and said they vindicated the president and were a “complete and total exoneration” of him.
But Mueller’s report painted a more nuanced picture.
In the obstruction thread, Barr told reporters on Thursday that Mueller’s decision was not influenced by Justice Department guidelines that say a sitting president cannot be indicted. He said Mueller’s determination – or lack thereof – was prompted by the inconclusive nature of the evidence.
But in his report, Mueller did not cite the evidence as a reason he did not come to a decision on obstruction. He did, however, cite the policy against charging a sitting president.
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.”
The report did say, as Barr mentioned, that Mueller’s investigation did not find a Trump-Russia criminal conspiracy.
But prosecutors prefaced that finding with a significant caveat, that “the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”
Barr made no mention of that finding by prosecutors in his initial summary of the report, in a subsequent letter to Congress, during several days of testimony before Congress, or at his Thursday press conference.
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