What a nest of vipers
Don McGahn had one job: stack the courts with extremist wingnuts. He's been brilliant at that. Now he's free to go cash in:
President Trump surprised Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, on Wednesday with an abrupt announcement that Mr. McGahn will be departing his post this fall, effectively forcing the long-anticipated exit of a top adviser who has cooperated extensively in the investigation into Russian election interference.
The president made the declaration on Twitter without first informing Mr. McGahn, according to people close to both men. It came 11 days after The New York Times reported the degree to which Mr. McGahn — who was by Mr. Trump’s side at major moments as the president sought to keep control over the Russia inquiry — has emerged as a key witness in the investigation. Mr. McGahn has cooperated extensively with prosecutors, who are scrutinizing whether the president tried to obstruct the investigation.
The president’s tweet was precipitated by a report on the Axios website that Mr. McGahn planned to leave after Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation process concluded. Mr. Trump had grown tired of seeing reports that Mr. McGahn might leave, according to people familiar with his thinking, and decided to take away any wiggle room he might have.
But Mr. McGahn, who had been a frequent target of Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, believed the story was planted by his critics to force the president’s hand and hasten the timeline of announcing his departure.
Ms. Trump complained bitterly to her father about The Times report this month, which detailed how some in the White House were unaware of the extent of Mr. McGahn’s cooperation with Mr. Mueller, according to a person briefed on the discussion.
On Wednesday afternoon at the White House, Mr. Trump praised Mr. McGahn and said he had nothing to fear about what his counsel had told Mr. Mueller, even as he appeared to confirm he was not completely aware what that was.
“I don’t have to be aware,” Mr. Trump said. “We do everything straight. We do everything by the book. And Don is an excellent guy.”
Mr. Trump and his White House counsel had already grown distant, with the president bristling at being advised not to take actions that could draw legal scrutiny, and Mr. McGahn becoming increasingly weary of serving a client who often refused to listen to legal reasoning. Mr. McGahn had taken to telling people that a day without a single summons to the Oval Office was a good day, and he preferred to spend as much time as possible in his upstairs corner office in the West Wing next to the presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway — like him a New Jersey native — which they called the “New Jersey corner.”
The loss of Mr. McGahn will further whittle down the list of people in the West Wing who are willing to say no to Mr. Trump. Within the White House, Mr. McGahn was seen as the protector of presidential institutions and as a guardrail who was willing to tell the president when he should not take certain actions. Mr. McGahn was not afraid to fight the president and had several epic screaming matches with him over the months he worked in the White House.
Mr. Trump often griped that he wanted to get rid of Mr. McGahn, but the president never seemed willing to follow through and dismiss him. The president asked Rob Porter, then the staff secretary, several times last year if he would be willing to take over for Mr. McGahn, including after John F. Kelly became the chief of staff in July 2017. Mr. Porter told the president he did not believe that he was qualified for the role, those briefed on the discussions said, and he has since left the White House amid accusations of spousal abuse.
Mr. Trump often blamed Mr. McGahn for the cloud the special counsel’s investigation had cast over the White House. He said Mr. McGahn should have done more to stop Mr. Sessions from recusing himself from the investigation, the decision Mr. Trump believes allowed Mr. Mueller to be appointed in May 2017.
Still, despite his reputation for being brave enough to tell Mr. Trump no, there was one major event Mr. McGahn could not stop: the firing of the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey. After failing to persuade Mr. Trump not to dismiss Mr. Comey, Mr. McGahn worked with Mr. Sessions and the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, to come up with a rationale for the dismissal. Eight days after Mr. Comey was fired, Mr. Mueller was appointed as the special counsel.
A lot of this is fed to the Times by McGahn himself who has been building his heroic image for a while. Nonetheless, it does seem that it was usual backstabbing that precipitated today's presidential tweet. Trump does not trust him and believes he's dangerous to him on the inside. Those 30 hours of interviews have to have him worried about just what he had to say. He was on the campaign, the transition and the White House. He's seen it all.