Ex-White House counsel Don McGahn agrees to testify in Trump probe
Donald Trump will remain banned from Facebook for at least another two years, the social media network has announced. The company says it will revisit the decision on 7 January 2023, but will only allow Mr Trump back on if his “risk to public safety has receded.”
The former president issued a furious response, calling his continued suspension “an insult.” He also threatened to never invite Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to another White House dinner, implying that he’ll run for president again.
“Next time I’m in the White House there will be no more dinners, at his request, with Mark Zuckerberg and his wife,” the former president said in a brief statement. “It will be all business!”
Others criticized Facebook for not going far enough, saying the ban should be permanent.
Meanwhile, Don McGahn, the Trump-era White House counsel who featured heavily in Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference during the 2016 election, testified before the House Judiciary Committee after two years of defying their subpoenas. A transcript of the interview will be released some time in the next seven days.
Republican representatives Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan told reporters nothing of note was revealed in the testimony.
‘We’ve learned nothing new,’ Mr Gaetz told reporters.
Good morning, we’ll be using this live blog to give you the latest updates on Don McGahn’s appearance in front of the House Judiciary committee.
Andy Gregory4 June 2021 08:32
Who is Don McGahn, and why is his testimony so important?
My colleague in the US, Andrew Naughtie, has this refresher on Don McGahn’s significance in relation to the Trump presidency, and why his testimony is so significant.
He reports that, for two years, the House Judiciary Committee has been investigating whether or not Mr Trump obstructed justice in his attempts to punish his perceived enemies and his efforts to thwart the investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and the Russian government.
McGahn’s upcoming testimony marks a breakthrough in the face of the Trump administration’s attempts to stymie the probe with its steadfast refusal to comply with subpoenas for testimony.
Andy Gregory4 June 2021 08:38
As agreed in last month’s federal court ruling (more on that in a moment), Don McGahn will only be questioned on non-redacted aspects of the Mueller report which are attributed to him.
However, with Mr McGahn having been referenced hundreds of times, that leaves significant scope for the committee.
In his report, Mr Mueller pointedly did not exonerate Donald Trump of obstruction of justice. Nor did he recommend prosecuting him, citing Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president.
Andy Gregory4 June 2021 08:47
Trump is implying he’s still president in fundraising messages
The House Judiciary committee’s investigation into whether or not Mr Trump obstructed justice with attempts to thwart Robert Mueller’s efforts to probe Russian interference in his election victory is but one of a series of potential legal challenges the 45th US president is facing.
Meanwhile, in fundraising messages sent to his supporters, Mr Trump’s campaign is still referring to him as president – four months after Joe Biden took over in the White House.
My colleague Nathan Place has more details:
Andy Gregory4 June 2021 08:57
Court ruling marked beginning of end of Trump’s ‘era of destruction’, committee chair said
“When the former president vowed to fight ‘all of the subpoenas’ aimed at his administration, he began a dangerous campaign of unprecedented obstruction. We begin to bring that era of obstruction to an end today.”
That’s how House Judiciary committee chair Jerrold Nadler reacted to last month’s ruling ordering Don McGahn to give his testimony.
In his statement, Mr Nadler – a Democrat – described the ruling as a good-faith compromise that “satisfies our subpoena, protects the Committee’s constitutional duty to conduct oversight in the future, and safeguards sensitive executive branch prerogatives”.
The ruling resolved a years-long legal battle after the committee sued Mr McGahn in August 2019 over his refusal, on Trump’s orders, to comply with its subpoena ordering him to testify.
Andy Gregory4 June 2021 09:12
Government official jailed for 6 months for leaking Mueller documents to the media
A former US Treasury official has been sentenced to six months in prison for leaking official documents to the media, my colleague Mayank Aggarwal reports.
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards was arrested in 2018 and last year pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge. She admitted to leaking banking reports, including some related to people being investigated in Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
This week, US District judge Gregory H Woods called her actions “illegal and wrong” and said it was “sad and perhaps ironic” that she went into public service because she was upset over the 9/11 terror attacks but “came to believe disclosing America’s secrets would somehow be beneficial to our nation.”
Edwards’s lawyer Stephanie M Carvlin had argued that she made her disclosures after concluding that people running the Treasury Department were, through wrongdoing, “creating a dangerous situation for the American people”.
A spokesperson for BuzzFeed – which alongside the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published several stories on “The FinCEN Files”, based on material obtained from Edwards – said the news company “strongly condemned” the ruling and called her a “brave whistleblower” who “fought to warn the public about grave risks to America’s national security” despite “tremendous personal risk”.
Andy Gregory4 June 2021 09:29
What did McGahn actually say in the Mueller report?
During his time in the White House, Don McGahn had an insider’s view of many of the episodes Robert Mueller and his team examined for potential obstruction of justice during the Russia investigation – proving a pivotal and damning witness against Donald Trump within the eventual report.
While some of the report remains redacted, the AP has this round-up of Mr McGahn’s publicly known contributions:
- He described Mr Trump’s repeated efforts to choke off the probe and directives he said he received from the president that unnerved him.
- He recounted how Mr Trump had demanded that he contact then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to order him to unrecuse himself from the Russia investigation.
- Mr McGahn also said Mr Trump had implored him to tell the deputy attorney general at the time, Rod Rosenstein, to remove Mr Mueller from his position because of perceived conflicts of interest — and, after that episode was reported in the media, to publicly and falsely deny that demand had ever been made.
- He also described the circumstances leading up to Mr Trump’s firing of James Comey as FBI director, including the president’s insistence on including in the termination letter the fact that Mr Comey had reassured Mr Trump that he was not personally under investigation.
- And he was present for a critical conversation early in the Trump administration, when Sally Yates, just before she was fired as acting attorney general, relayed concerns to Mr McGahn that new national security adviser Michael Flynn’s conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak — and his subsequent interview by the FBI — left him vulnerable to blackmail.
Andy Gregory4 June 2021 09:45
‘History will not be kind’ to Bill Barr for protecting Trump following Mueller memo ruling, Democrat says
Last month, the Department of Justice was ordered to release a memo that former US Attorney General William Barr used to avoid prosecuting Donald Trump for obstruction of justice following Robert Mueller’s investigation – following a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
My colleague Alex Woodward reported at the time that US District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson accused Mr Barr of being “disingenuous” about his assessment of Mr Mueller’s findings and found that the Justice Department’s obfuscations misled the public and Congress about the investigation
“The attorney general’s characterisation of what he’d hardly had time to skim, much less study closely, prompted an immediate reaction, as politicians and pundits took to their microphones and Twitter feeds to decry what they feared was an attempt to hide the ball,” Judge Jackson wrote in US District Court.
Following the ruling, US Rep Ted Lieu, a Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, alleged that “history will not be kind” to the former attorney general.
You can read more details here:
Andy Gregory4 June 2021 10:07
Committee should be able to question McGahn on ‘all aspects’ of his time in White House, former ethics chief says
With the deal reached in court last month leaving the House Judiciary committee able only to question Don McGahn about his publicly-known evidence to Robert Mueller, a former chief White House ethics lawyer, Richard W Painter, has called on the Department of Justice to permit the committee to quiz McGahn on “all aspects” of the Trump presidency during his time in office.
Arguing that Don McGhan’s testimony will be “critically important” for understanding Robert Mueller’s suggestion that Donald Trump may have committed obstruction of justice, Mr Painter argued that the department should withdraw the assertion of privilege with regard to anything McGahn can tell Congress about the president he previously served.
“This would not only strike a blow for transparency; it would also begin to correct the ever-expanding concept of executive privilege, a doctrine that has not served the interests of US democracy or national security,” he wrote yesterday in an article for Slate alongside Claire O Finkelstein, who founded Penn Law’s Centre for Ethics and the Rule of Law.
They alleged that “the assertion of executive privilege appears designed to obscure the president’s misdeeds, and the DOJ’s support of that claim sets back efforts to bring the truth about Trump’s presidency to light” – and suggested that “a president’s assertion of privilege may itself be an act of obstruction of Congress when used for the sole purpose of avoiding scrutiny into presidential misdeeds”.
Andy Gregory4 June 2021 10:41
What were the key findings of the Mueller report?
A lot may have happened in the intervening period, but it is just over two years since the Mueller report was published.
For anyone needing a refresh on what exactly emerged from the probe that plagued Donald Trump through much of his presidency, Chris Stevenson has this report on its key findings.
In a section of particular relevance to today’s events, the special counsel pointed out that Congress could also apply obstruction laws in investigating and impeaching a sitting president.
“The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” the report stated.
Andy Gregory4 June 2021 11:06