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Trump-Russia collusion investigations

White House counsel Don McGahn is out, Trump tweets, without telling him first

McGahn cooperated extensively with Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, straining his relationship with the US President

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 10:08am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 10:10am

White House counsel Don McGahn, whose relationship with US President Donald Trump has been strained by the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, is set to leave the job in the coming weeks.

Trump apparently did not inform McGahn before announcing on Twitter on Wednesday that he would exit the White House after the US Senate confirms the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. He will become the latest in a long string of high-ranking advisers to leave Trump’s side.

McGahn did not know the tweet was coming, an administration official said, but he had been planning to leave the White House because he felt he had achieved his goals in getting conservatives named to federal judgeships, rolling back regulations and reeling in the bureaucracy.

Trump announced McGahn’s departure less than two weeks after it was reported that McGahn had voluntarily cooperated with Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, which the president repeatedly has decried as a witch hunt.

In his interviews with Mueller’s team, McGahn was asked about Trump’s actions in firing FBI Director James Comey in 2017. Other topics included Trump’s criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia probe, the Post said.

Trump later told reporters at the White House that he has “a lot of affection for Don” and said he was not concerned about what McGahn told the Mueller probe. “We do everything straight,” he said. “We do everything by the book. And Don is an excellent guy.”

Mueller’s investigation already has resulted in guilty pleas for several Trump insiders, indictments, cooperation deals and one conviction. Russia has denied meddling in the election.

Trump has not settled on a replacement for McGahn, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters. There has been speculation the job would go to Emmett Flood, a veteran Washington lawyer who joined the White House in May to help with the Russia probe.

“People like him,” Sanders said of Flood. “He’s super well-respected around the building but there’s not a plan locked in place at this point.”

McGahn could not be reached for comment.

With his departure, he will become part of an unprecedented level of turnover among modern administrations studied by presidential scholars. Of Trump’s top 27 aides listed on his first annual staff report to Congress, McGahn will be the 17th to depart.

The news was met with dismay by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who wrote in a tweet addressed to Trump: “U can’t let that happen.”

George Hartmann, spokesman for the committee, said Grassley viewed McGahn as the linchpin to Trump’s push to fill judicial vacancies. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell praised McGahn as “the most impressive White House Counsel during my time in Washington.”

With help from McGahn, Trump has reshaped the federal judiciary in a conservative direction, tilting the balance on the Supreme Court to the right, and filling a record-breaking number of seats on the influential federal appeals courts during his first two years in office.

Trump’s success in filling vacancies has been key to building and retaining political support among Republican voters.

In one of the stormiest moments as White House lawyer, McGahn threatened to quit in June 2017 because he was “fed up” after Trump insisted he take steps to remove Mueller, a person familiar with the matter said earlier this year.

McGahn also was involved in the controversy surrounding Trump’s firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. In January 2017, then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed McGahn that Flynn had misled the FBI about his discussions with former Russian ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak. Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI.

McGahn, a Washington insider who was chief counsel for Trump’s presidential run, was one of the first advisers Trump named to the White House after being elected in November 2016.