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Don McGahn, White House Lawyer, To Step Down

Aug 29, 2018
Originally published on August 29, 2018 9:32 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are following breaking news this hour. President Trump just announced on Twitter that White House counsel Don McGahn is leaving his position this coming fall. This follows recent revelations that McGahn cooperated extensively with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. NPR's Tamara Keith joins us now from the White House.

Tamara, why is Don McGahn stepping down?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, to hear the president and press secretary Sarah Sanders tell it, you know, he's worked for the president for a long time. Sanders says they have a good relationship and there's nothing else to add. He has done what he set out to do, and he is ready to move on. And the reality is that McGahn has served with Trump since the campaign. He's a campaign finance expert and was part of the Trump campaign doing that work and has now been in this job for almost two years and, in that time, has had incredible success at what his main goal in the job was, which was putting a lot of conservative judges into the federal courts.

MARTIN: Right. I'm just going to read the president's tweet here. He said, White House counsel Don McGahn will be leaving his position in the fall shortly after the confirmation - in parentheses - (hopefully) of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. So McGahn - in addition to helping with all kinds of judicial nominations, he has been critical in shepherding Kavanaugh through this process, hasn't he?

KEITH: That's right - and also was critical in shepherding Justice Neil Gorsuch through the process. And of course, he's on the Supreme Court now. So you know, Don McGahn can look back at his time in the White House counsel's office and look at the federal judiciary and see that he has made quite an impact in terms of putting conservative judges. People, you know - one of the reasons President Trump was elected is because he put out this list of conservative judges who he said he would appoint to the Supreme Court if he was elected. And that went a long way with evangelical voters who had other concerns about him, about sort of his personal indiscretions. And those voters have gotten what they asked for. And in part, they can thank Don McGahn.

MARTIN: Although the timing is such that it would raise questions about whether or not the president was dissatisfied with the way that McGahn apparently cooperated with Robert Mueller. I mean, based on conversations you've had with people in the White House, was that something that has led to his departure?

KEITH: Not that I have heard. But let's just say what we're talking about here. Reportedly, McGahn spent some 30 hours talking to the special counsel's team over the course of several interviews. And that's a lot of time. Now, he did that because the president's legal team and the White House special counsel who's handling the Russia investigation gave him the green light. They don't believe that they've waived executive privilege. But that's another story.

MARTIN: So this is an important job. Perhaps Americans are more familiar with the name Don McGahn than they have been with any other previous White House counsel. Any idea, at this point, who might replace him?

KEITH: Well, one name that is floating around - and it's really the only name that's floating around - is Emmet Flood. He is currently the White House special counsel. He is a lawyer who has been brought in to handle the Russia investigation for the White House.

MARTIN: In other words, he works for Donald Trump the citizen.

KEITH: No. No, he works for the White House. He is a federal employee. He is - he represents the presidency and the president but not Donald J. Trump the man. But - so he's inside...

MARTIN: So what would this...

KEITH: ...The White House

MARTIN: ...Change indicate?

KEITH: You know, Flood has been more restrictive on executive privilege. He has not wanted as much cooperation as his predecessor in that role.

MARTIN: NPR's Tamara Keith reporting on this news from the White House that White House counsel Don McGahn will be leaving his position this fall.

Tamara, thanks very much.

KEITH: You're welcome very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.