President Trump attempted to have former White House counsel Don McGahn publicly state that he didn’t view the president’s request to have special counsel Robert Mueller removed in 2017 as obstruction of justice just days after the Mueller report was released, The Wall Street Journal reports.
While McGahn is said to have rebuffed the request, it would mark at least the second time the president or one of his lawyers allegedly asked McGahn to publicly vouch for Trump amid scrutiny of potential obstruction of justice.
When The New York Times first reported in 2018 that Trump had urged McGahn to have Mueller removed, Trump’s personal lawyer asked McGahn to publicly dispute the claim, which he declined to do, according to the redacted version of the 448-page Mueller report.
Within a day of the release of that report, Trump again sought to have McGahn clear him of suspicions by privately asking Emmet Flood, the White House special counsel, to reach out to McGahn and ask if he would release a statement declaring that he didn’t view Trump’s request for Mueller’s removal as obstruction, according to sources cited by the Journal.
Trump has denied publicly that he ever asked McGahn to fire Mueller, though the alleged directive was featured in Mueller’s report. The report detailed a June 2017 episode in which McGahn testified that Trump asked him to have Mueller removed from the Russia probe, allegedly urging him to tell then-Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that “Mueller has to go.” Trump was said to have talked about “knocking out Mueller” to McGahn on at least two separate occasions in the report. The episode was widely seen as ammunition for any potential obstruction of justice charges against the president.
Sources cited by the Journal also say that Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow reached out to McGahn’s lawyer, William Burck, during the Russia investigation to inquire about McGahn’s testimony to Mueller. John Dowd, who was in charge of Trump’s legal efforts, had also reportedly gotten in touch with Burck to ask about the same matter.
The revelation that Trump reportedly attempted to have McGahn make a statement on the record after the Mueller report was released comes after the White House reportedly instructed McGahn to eschew a subpoena from lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee earlier this week.
Burck, McGahn's lawyer, told the Journal the latest request from Trump was not seen “as any kind of threat or something sinister.” “It was a request, professionally and cordially made,” he was quoted as saying.