Trump blasts New York Times over White House counsel report

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.”