WASHINGTON – White House counsel Don McGahn, whose time serving President Donald Trump has been marked by tension related to the investigation of Russian election interference, is set to leave the job in the coming weeks. Trump made the announcement on Twitter on Wednesday, ending widespread speculation about McGahn, who will be the latest in a long string of high-ranking advisers to leave Trump’s side.
“White House Counsel Don McGahn will be leaving his position in the fall, shortly after the confirmation (hopefully) of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court,” Trump said on Twitter.
McGahn did not know the tweet was coming, an administration official said, but had been planning to leave the White House in coming months because he felt he had achieved his goals in getting conservatives named to federal judgeships, rolling back regulations and reeling in the bureaucracy. McGahn voluntarily cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team in a continuing investigation that already has resulted in guilty pleas, indictments, cooperation deals and one conviction for several Trump insiders. Russia has denied meddling in the election and Trump frequently denounces he investigation as a witch hunt.
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, but Sanders said he had not been offered the job.
“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.
McGahn’s departure had been widely expected but was met with dismay by Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley, who wrote in a tweet addressed to Trump: “I hope it’s not true McGahn is leaving White House Counsel. U can’t let that happen.” George Hartmann, spokesman for the committee, said Grassley viewed McGahn as the lynchpin to Trump’s push to fill judicial vacancies. While Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell praised McGahn as “the most impressive White House Counsel during my time in Washington.”
INTERVIEWS WITH MUELLER TEAM
The relationship between Trump and McGahn, a Washington insider who was chief counsel for Trump’s presidential run, has become strained by the pressures of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, sources familiar with the situation have said. The Washington Post said in his interviews with Mueller’s team, which also is investigating potential obstruction of justice regarding the Russian meddling, that McGahn was asked about Trump’s actions in firing FBI Director James Comey in 2017. Other topics included Trump’s comments regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a frequent target of critical tweets from the president, and the possibility of firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the probe, the Post said.
Trump tweeted that he had given McGahn permission to talk with investigators and that he nothing to hide. 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 told Reuters earlier this year.
The source said Trump asked McGahn to raise what he said were Mueller’s conflicts with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because the president thought they were serious enough to remove Mueller. McGahn did not discuss the issue with Rosenstein and threatened to quit when Trump continued to insist that he do so, the person said. McGahn also was involved in the controversy surrounding Trump’s firing of former national security advisor 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.
As White House counsel, McGahn was charged with untangling a thicket of conflicts of interest between Trump’s international business interests and his presidency. The New Jersey native had been a partner at Jones Day, one of the world’s largest law firms. He was one of the first establishment Republicans to work with Trump, joining the New York businessman as counsel to his campaign. He specialized in campaign finance issues after serving on the Federal Election Commission from 2008 to 2013.
Trump named McGahn White House counsel in November 2016 shortly after winning the presidential election. He led Trump’s nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch through the Senate confirmation process in 2017, running “murder boards” in his office to bombard Gorsuch with questions he might face at his confirmation hearings. In July, McGahn was chosen to reprise that role, overseeing Trump’s selection of Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland;
Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Makini Brice, Brendan Pierson, Anthony Lin and Lisa Lambert;
Writing by Roberta Rampton;
Editing by Tim Ahmann and Bill Trott