Don McGahn speaks to Mueller for 30 hours in Russia inquiry
By Martin Pengelly and Ed Pilkington in New York | The Guardian | August 19, 2018
Donald Trump repeatedly attacked the New York Times on Sunday, over a bombshell report which said White House counsel Don McGahn has cooperated extensively with special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of Russian election interference, links between Trump aides and Moscow and potential obstruction of justice.
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The president both called the report “fake” and confirmed its substance.
Repeating a spelling mistake made in his initial response on Saturday, when the report was published online, Trump wrote: “The failing [New York Times] wrote a Fake piece today implying that because White House Councel [sic] Don McGahn was giving hours of testimony to the Special Councel [sic], he must be a John Dean type ‘RAT.’”
Dean was White House counsel to Richard Nixon during Watergate. He testified against the president, pled guilty to obstruction of justice and was held at an army base. Now an author and CNN contributor, he told Slate on Saturday: “Don McGahn is doing exactly the right thing, not merely to protect himself, but to protect his client. And his client is not Donald Trump; his client is the office of the president.”
The Times said McGahn had spoken to Mueller’s team for a total of 30 hours, on the advice of Trump’s first lawyers in the Russia investigation. McGahn shared some information investigators would not otherwise have known, the Times said, about events including Trump’s attempts to fire Mueller.
In a separate report, Reuters quoted a person familiar with the matter as saying he did not believe McGahn provided incriminating information about the president and had not seen or heard anything that amounted to obstruction of justice by Trump.
Nonetheless, Trump said on Sunday that the Times “wrote a story that made it seem like the White House Councel [sic] had TURNED on the President, when in fact it is just the opposite – & the two Fake reporters knew this. This is why the Fake News Media has become the Enemy of the People. So bad for America!”
Trump has used the “enemy of the people” tag repeatedly. Such attacks are decried by the media for potentially encouraging violence. Last month, Times publisher AG Sulzberger said he had asked the president to stop. In an interview on CNN on Saturday, executive editor Dean Baquet said Trump had “sent a message to despots abroad that you can disrespect the press”.
Watergate was one bungled event after another. I see the same thing happening with Trump – John Dean
On Sunday the president also claimed, without evidence, that “some members of the media are very Angry at the Fake Story in the New York Times” and had “actually called to complain and apologize”. He also complained about a “disgusting new Board Member” at the Times, apparently a reference to the writer Sarah Jeong.
Dean was not impressed by Trump’s handling of the situation.
“I see a lot of similarity in the bungling,” he told Slate. “Watergate was not a carefully planned crime and cover-up. It was one bungled event after another. I see the same thing happening with Trump.”
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In his Twitter rant, Trump claimed Mueller was biased and refered to another charged period in American history, the “red scare” of the 1950s. “Study the late Joseph McCarthy,” the president wrote, “because we are now in period with Mueller and his gang that make Joseph McCarthy look like a baby!”
The president has an acquaintance in common with the notorious senator from Wisconsin: the rightwing lawyer Roy Cohn, who worked for McCarthy before mentoring Trump as he rose to prominence in New York.
Trump’s hyperventilation prompted responses on the Sunday talk shows from top national security figures. On CNN’s State of the Union a former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency, Michael Hayden, expressed amazement at the “irony” that the president had likened Mueller to Joseph McCarthy.
“Joe McCarthy was a demagogue,” he said. “We haven’t a public syllable from Bob Mueller in more than a year.”
John Dean is sworn in by Senate Watergate committee in a photo from June 1973. Photograph: AP
Trump aimed at other familiar targets, writing: “No Collusion and No Obstruction, except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats. All of the resignations and corruption, yet heavily conflicted Bob Mueller refuses to even look in that direction. What about the Brennan, Comey, McCabe, Strzok lies to Congress, or Crooked’s Emails!”
This week, in a move widely criticised as an abuse of presidential power, Trump stripped former CIA director John Brennan of his security clearance. FBI director James Comey – fired by Trump in an event looked at by Mueller regarding potential obstruction of justice – fired deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and fired FBI agent Peter Strzok are among those reported under threat of similar treatment.
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Former director of national intelligence James Clapper told CNN on Sunday there was rising concern among senior intelligence figures about the “jeopardy and threats to our institutions and values” and said he had heard private expressions from within the Trump administration.
“I do know there is a lot of angst at the working levels in the IC [intelligence community] workforce,” Clapper said.
The Times reported that McGahn was in part motivated to co-operate with Mueller because he was worried he could become a scapegoat if wrongdoing was discovered. Slate asked Dean if he thought McGahn should resign.
“No,” he said. “That hadn’t occurred to me. More likely he would be fired than resign. Trump does not like people doing the right thing, like recusing when you have a conflict and you are attorney general [as Jeff Sessions didregarding the Russia investigation], or representing the office when you are White House counsel.”
He added: “I think there is good reason for McGahn to believe that Trump would throw him under the bus, since Trump throws almost everyone under the bus …
“Self-preservation is a real motive. At times, I felt it. When I first tried to go in and blow up the Watergate cover-up, I was really worried about the president and the office.”