Saturday, September 30, 2017
It was a rough summer for the WH Counsel
This WSJ piece was published yesterday. It contains a bunch of interesting nuggets about the state of play in the Russia investigation and the WH response:
White House Counsel Don McGahn this summer was so frustrated about the lack of protocols surrounding meetings between President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law whose activities are under scrutiny in the Russia probe, that West Wing officials expressed concerns the top lawyer would quit, according to people familiar with the conversations.
I love that Trump wanted to keep Jones Day focused on his "campaign" rather than hiring them to deal with the existential threat of this Russia probe. He's in major denial.
Mr. McGahn expressed concern that meetings between Mr. Kushner and Mr. Trump could be construed by investigators as an effort to coordinate their stories, three people familiar the matter said.
Two senior White House officials—then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former chief strategist Steve Bannon —urged Mr. McGahn not to resign, according to people familiar with the conversations. One person characterized Mr. McGahn’s frustration as, “Fine, you’re not taking my advice? Why stay?”
Mr. McGahn stayed in the job, reassured in part by the White House’s hiring of a legal team specifically to manage the response to the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Attorney Ty Cobb was hired to lead that group.
A White House official said Mr. McGahn “did not consider resigning, and he was not concerned about any one individual. He was focused on implementing the proper processes and structures to protect the White House and its staff, including Jared.”
Mr. McGahn’s concerns from earlier in the summer illustrate the disruption and tension that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is causing in the West Wing and how the White House’s legal strategy has evolved to respond to the probe.
Some members of Mr. Trump’s legal team in June concluded Mr. Kushner should step down and aired their concerns to the president, The Wall Street Journal has reported. Their concern was that if Mr. Kushner were to speak to the president or White House colleagues about the Russia investigation, Mr. Mueller could seek testimony about what was said.
Mr. Kushner’s role has caused particular concern among some White House officials as federal investigators examine meetings he held with Russian officials and businesspeople during the campaign and transition, said people familiar with the matter.
Federal investigators are examining a meeting during the transition that included Mr. Kushner and the Russian ambassador to the U.S., and another one that he held with the head of a Russian-run bank that has faced U.S. sanctions. Mr. Mueller is also probing a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer tied to the Kremlin, which was attended by Mr. Kushner and other campaign aides, including the president’s eldest son, according to people familiar with the matter.
The fallout from the probe continues to reverberate in the White House. Mr. Trump has also spoken to aides about his concern about the effect the continuing investigation is having on Mr. Kushner; Mr. Trump’s questions about Mr. Kushner spring partly from family considerations, said people familiar with the conversations.
Before taking office, Mr. Trump had urged Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, to remain in New York rather than join him in Washington. Inside the White House, he regularly repeats his view that following him put their reputations at risk, those officials said.
A person close to Mr. Trump said that “as a father, the president feels protective over his kids when they are constantly under attack, but is grateful for their continued contributions towards his agenda.”
Mr. McGahn and some other lawyers wanted a large law firm to manage the response to the probe. They advocated using Jones Day—the law firm where Mr. McGahn worked prior to entering the administration—to play an expanded role in the matter. Mr. Trump opted to keep Jones Day largely focused on representing his campaign.
Mr. McGahn still harbors some concerns about a lack of White House resources available to Mr. Cobb. One person familiar with the team’s operations expressed similar concerns, comparing Mr. Mueller’s team of prosecutors to a “killing machine,” while Mr. Cobb is armed with little more than an “accordion folder” filled with legal pads and post-it notes.
A White House official defended Mr. Cobb, saying he had not been given the resources he needed at the outset.
A veteran of the previous Republican administration said the White House typically seeks to wall off individuals involved in continuing investigations.
“Whenever you have someone who is under investigation, and that individual is having conversations with the president on a wide variety of things that may not relate to the investigation—nonetheless, it creates perception problems,” said Alberto Gonzales, who served as White House counsel and later attorney general under former Republican President George W. Bush. “Someone may slip up and say something that relates to the investigation. You really want to minimize direct contact between someone that’s involved in an investigation and the president of the United States.”
Mr. McGahn, one of Mr. Trump’s closest confidants dating back to the campaign, has on multiple occasions had heated conversations with the president in the Oval Office, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Kushner, who holds an elite perch as a top adviser working a few paces from the Oval Office, continues to oversee a sweeping policy portfolio that includes Middle East peace and government efficiencies.
Meanwhile, this piece in Vanity Fair discusses the dilemma Mueller faces in whether it makes sense to go ahead with the obstruction charge before he's able to nail down the underlying crime. I don't have a legal opinion on that but I think it makes political sense to first prove the underlying crime if they think it really exists. Since the congress is so dysfunctional that it can't quickly and thoroughly work on a bipartisan basis to uncover the how and why this was done and try to set up processes to prevent it from happening again, this probe seems to be the only hope we have for getting to the truth of what happened.
Trump pretty obviously obstructed justice. He admitted it on TV and has done numerous things since then to show that he was leaning on various officials to illegally shut down the probe. What we don't know is if he was covering up his crimes or if he was just annoyed that he was having to deal with the questions and since he believes he's a king rather than a democratically elected official subject to the rule of law, he figured he could just order the government to do his bidding.
Not that it should matter. He's obviously way out of bounds whatever his motives. But considering the seriousness of the underlying issue I would hope that the Special Prosecutor will do everything in his power to unravel what happened in the election whether it indicts Trump or not. He was clearly unfit for office regardless of Russian interference and people voted for him anyway. That's on the American electorate not him.
digby 9/30/2017 01:00:00 PM