Former President Donald Trump ordered his top White House attorney to issue a false statement at the height of the Mueller investigation even though he knew the lying could carry criminal consequences for both of them, according to newly unearthed congressional testimony.
Donald McGahn, who served as Trump’s first White House counsel, told members of the House Judiciary Committee in a closed-door hearing last week that the ex-president instructed him to issue a statement in February 2018 denying that he had ever tried to fire Mueller, according to a 241-page transcript of the testimony released Wednesday.
Trump knew that statement “would not have been accurate” since he had ordered McGahn months earlier to orchestrate Mueller’s firing — a demand McGahn refused, he testified.
Trump also knew at the time that McGahn had already told Mueller’s investigators the truth, and that the special counsel would not take kindly to the White House lawyer giving conflicting accounts of a key episode in his probe into whether the former president obstructed justice, according to the testimony.
“(Mueller) had already publicly made clear he was going after various people for that, and that certainly is one that would weigh on anybody’s mind,” McGahn testified, referring to false statement crimes, according to the transcript.
Nonetheless, Trump kept pressuring McGahn, making him feel “trapped,” he testified.
“Frustrated, perturbed, trapped,” he told lawmakers. “Many emotions … Trapped because the president had the same conversation with me repeatedly, and I thought I conveyed my views and offered my advice, and we were still having the same conversation.”
One of the judiciary committee’s investigators asked McGahn during the June 4 hearing if he agreed with the characterization that Trump was asking him to “do crazy s–t” in first demanding Mueller’s firing and then requesting a statement claiming it never happened.
“I think it’s fair,” McGahn replied.
Trump tried to block McGahn from testifying before the House Judiciary Committee for years, but the panel’s chairman, New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, ultimately prevailed in court.
In a statement Wednesday, Nadler said McGahn’s testimony provided “firsthand accounts of President Trump’s increasingly out of control behavior” as Mueller dug deeper into his campaign’s ties to Russia and possible obstruction of that inquiry.
“All told, Mr. McGahn’s testimony gives us a fresh look at how dangerously close President Trump brought us to, in Mr. McGahn’s words, the ‘point of no return,’” the New York Democrat said.
After investigating Trump for nearly two years, Mueller concluded in his special counsel report that he did not uncover enough evidence to recommend that the former president or his campaign aides be charged with directly colluding in Russia’s attack on the 2016 election.
However, Mueller notably never exonerated Trump of obstructing his investigation. In his report, Mueller listed off 10 individual instances of potential obstruction crimes committed by the former president.
After Mueller’s probe wrapped up, Trump went on to get impeached twice over conduct related to the 2020 election. The former president maintains to this day that every investigation into his various alleged wrongdoing is part of a nefarious political “witch hunt.”