White House counsel Don McGahn has cooperated extensively with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, participating in several interviews spanning 30 hours over the last nine months, The New York Times reported Saturday.
McGahn has provided “detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice,” including providing information that the Mueller team otherwise would not have learned about, the Times reported, citing a dozen current and former White House officials and other individuals briefed on the matter.
A source familiar with McGahn’s thinking told CNN on Saturday that McGahn and Mueller’s team had “several, several” hours discussions on at least three occasions. CNN previously reported there had been three interviews between McGahn and Mueller’s team.
The Times reported that McGahn’s decision to cooperate was partly due to the fact that the President’s initial legal team had decided to fully cooperate with Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, believing their client had nothing to hide and they could bring a quick end to the probe.
The source familiar with McGahn’s thinking told CNN that the strategy of the President’s legal team surprised those close to McGahn, who thought Trump’s lawyers would have placed limits on an interview, or, if they refused to allow the interview outright, would have entered into a subpoena fight. There was a feeling that the President’s legal team “opened the cupboard door” to everything, the source said.
McGahn became concerned that the President planned to set him up to be held responsible for any potential illegal incidents of obstruction, the Times reported, citing to people close to him. So the White House counsel and his attorney came up with a strategy to cooperate as extensively as possible with the special counsel in order to prove that there was no wrongdoing by McGahn, the newspaper reported.
Another source close to McGahn disputed any implication that he was doing anything but following the requests of Trump’s legal team. Once the President’s legal team made the decision to waive executive and attorney-client privilege, McGahn had no choice except to cooperate, the source said.
Trump wrote on Twitter Saturday evening that he “allowed White House Counsel Don McGahn, and all other requested members of the White House Staff, to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel. In addition we readily gave over one million pages of documents. Most transparent in history. No Collusion, No Obstruction. Witch Hunt!”
McGahn’s personal attorney, William Burck, said in a statement Saturday, “President Trump, through counsel, declined to assert any privilege over Mr. McGahn’s testimony, so Mr. McGahn answered the Special Counsel team’s questions fulsomely and honestly, as any person interviewed by federal investigators must.”
Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani says McGahn “was sanctioned” to do the interviews with Mueller’s team.
“McGahn was sanctioned to do it,” Giuliani told CNN. “He was encouraged to do it” by John Dowd, who was then Trump’s lead private attorney.
“Dowd was comfortable with it. The strategy at the time was complete cooperation,” Giuliani said. He added about the Times report, “We think it was leaked to get the President to testify – that he would get angry at (McGahn) the way he did at Omarosa – and would want to testify.”
The Times reported that McGahn has told investigators that he has not witnessed the President take any action that exceeds “his legal authorities.”
The newspaper also reported that, according to a person with knowledge of the President’s thinking, Trump incorrectly thought that McGahn would act as a personal attorney would and solely defend the President’s interests in interactions with the special counsel team. But McGahn laid out how Trump “tried to ensure control of the investigation, giving investigators a mix of information both potentially damaging and favorable to the president,” the Times’ report said.
In remarks to CNN, a person with direct knowledge of McGahn’s legal strategy did not “agree with the insinuation in the article that Don provided incriminating information about Trump. He just told the truth as he was required to.”
In response to a request for comment on the Times’ report from CNN, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “The president and Don have a great relationship” and Trump “appreciates all the hard work he’s done, particularly his help and expertise with judges.”
Shortly after the Times published its report on Saturday, Giuliani called on Mueller’s team to wrap up its investigation and file a report on its findings.
“Time for Mueller investigation to file report,” Giuliani wrote on Twitter. “We will release ours. Don’t interfere with election like Comey. The President had nothing to do with Russians. He didn’t obstruct an investigation. 1.4 million documents and 32 witnesses no privilege raised.”
Asked his view about the level of McGahn’s cooperation with Mueller’s team, CNN legal analyst Ross Garber told CNN anchor Fredricka Whitfield on Saturday, “It really is extraordinary.”
“To give up those privileges so early, I was frankly surprised, and it appears it may come back to hurt the President and perhaps the presidency,” Garber added.
Garber said later, “Let’s be clear: he (McGahn) is a witness. He went in and sat with prosecutors and the agents, and he provided information. The White House counsel is a witness. And probably a very important one.”
CNN’s Ryan Nobles, Veronica Stracqualursi, Betsy Klein and Dana Bash contributed to this report.