How Don McGahn's one act of defiance saved the Donald Trump presidency from imploding
No matter how you spin it, the Trump presidency may just have very narrowly escaped impeachment territory - all because his aides and advisers stopped him or refused to carry out his orders regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
In the obstruction probe, Mueller's report found that Trump's "efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests."
The report on Trump-Russia investigation mentioned the singular act of defiance by former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who refused to heed President Trump's demand that he ask deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to fire Mueller from the investigation citing "conflicts of interest".
Word spread like wildfire that Trump had requested something like that - allegedly forcing the commander-in-chief to order his lawyers to deny any news stories speculating his decision to fire Mueller.
Here is an excerpt from the report:
“On January 26, 2018, the President’s personal counsel called McGahn’s attorney and said that the President wanted McGahn to put out a statement denying that he had been asked to fire the Special Counsel and that he had threatened to quit in protest. McGahn’s attorney spoke with McGahn about the request and then called the President’s personal counsel to relay that McGahn would not make a statement. McGahn’s attorney informed the President’s personal counsel that the Times story was accurate in reporting that the President wanted the special counsel removed.”
Despite the president's alleged orders, McGahn did not relay the message to Rosenstein that the Special Counsel must be removed. Instead, he was prepared to resign over Trump's order.
Furthermore, then-FBI director James Comey also elected not to conclude the investigation of General Michael Flynn as per the president's request, which eventually resulted in his prosecution and conviction for lying to the FBI.
Aside from McGahn, two former Trump campaign advisers, Corey Lewandowski and Rick Dearborn, were also responsible for inadvertently safeguarding the president from losing his office. As per the report, both chose not to deliver his message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he should limit the probe to election meddling by Russia.
Had they done so, the special counsel would have enough evidence to furnish potential obstruction charges against the president.
Here is another excerpt from the viral document:
"Lewandowski and Dearborn did not deliver the President‘s message to Sessions that he should confine the Russia investigation to future election meddling only. And McGahn refused to recede from his recollections about events surrounding the President’s direction to have the Special Counsel removed, despite the President’s multiple demands that he do so. Consistent with that pattern, the evidence we obtained would not support potential obstruction charges against the President’s aides and associates beyond those already filed."
McGahn formally departed the Trump administration on October 17, 2018. "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 announced at the time. "I have worked with Don for a long time and truly appreciate his service!"
In hindsight, President Trump must count his blessings that those around him refused to do his biddings, which ultimately saved his skin.