White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign in June
White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign from his position in June 2017– but it was not in direct response to President Trump’s discussion of firing newly appointed special counsel Robert Mueller. Two sources directly involved in the deliberations tell CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett that McGahn’s threat was not communicated directly to Mr. Trump, but adjudicated by senior staff, principally then-chief of staff Reince Priebus and then-chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Garrett reports that while Mr. Trump talked about firing Mueller, he never issued a direct “order” to do so in any written form, although he did say he favored it in the presence of senior staff.
Soon after Mueller’s appointment, Mr. Trump raised three possible conflict of interest areas for the special counsel. The president expressed confusion and anger over these areas as well as the general scope of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Sources tell Garrett that White House senior staff viewed Mr. Trump’s talk of firing Mueller skeptically, as he frequently mentioned firing people in his administration, but often quickly forgets about it.
In the Mueller instance, as in other potential firing cases, senior staff acknowledged the president with nods, but did not take action, in hopes Mr. Trump would simmer down or forget, sources tell Garrett.
Because of this, discussion of firing Mueller was not acted upon or elevated from the White House to Department of Justice.
McGahn, other White House counsel attorneys, and other senior staff talked Mr. Trump to back off the notion of firing Mueller based on the risks involved and the lack of legal basis to oust the special counsel.
Sources tell Garrett that McGahn threatened to resign over an accumulation of stresses and frustrations with the president, rather than leaving for issues related to Mueller’s potential firing.
McGahn’s primary stress was being a “no” voice for Mr. Trump. He served as the the principle lawyerly voice intervening to explain legal limits to Mr. Trump about his various intentions or desires. This role put McGahn at uneasy odds with Mr. Trump.
McGahn did not threaten to resign to Mr. Trump, but communicated this frustration, and others brought to a head by the Mueller situation, to senior staff– primarily Priebus and Bannon.
In response to McGahn’s complaints, more White House Counsel lawyers were brought into interactions with Mr. Trump. Legal advice would then be communicated to Mr. Trump through Preibus and eventually, through current White House chief of staff John Kelly.
With the beginning of Mueller’s investigation, McGahn became a figure in the firing of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James Comey. That meant McGahn had to severely limit interactions with Mr. Trump, a practice he has adhered to since, sources tell Garrett.
Other advisers and attorneys, including Ty Cobb, John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, have successfully persuaded Mr. Trump to back off from Mueller. Discussion of firing the special counsel quickly died down.
Since late December, Mr. Trump has allowed Cobb, Dowd, and Sekulow to negotiate on a Trump-Mueller interview.