The White House asked a key Mueller probe witness to say Trump didn't obstruct justice — but he refused: report

A lawyer for former White House Counsel Don McGahan confirmed to the Wall Street Journal on Friday that the White House requested that he deny President Donald Trump obstructed justice around the time Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report was released. But McGahn said no.


The report detailed extensive evidence of Trump's behavior across a wide range of incidents in which could potentially constitute criminal obstruction of justice. It also provided legal analysis showing that, in at least several of the cases, there was strong evidence that Trump broke the law — and two of the most damning cases include the president's efforts to get McGahn to fire Mueller and later to fabricate evidence about that incident.

Trump reportedly wanted McGahn to publicly state that he didn't think these acts were obstructive.

“We did not perceive it as any kind of threat or something sinister," William Burck, McGahn's lawyer, said of the request. "It was a request, professionally and cordially made.”

Many legal analysts and former prosecutors have concluded that Mueller's evidence would be sufficient to bring a case were Trump not protected from indictment. It may seem that McGahn's refusal to assent to Trump's request suggests he agrees with this assessment.

But there's no reason to be confident about this conclusion. The Journal reported:

Mr. McGahn declined because he didn’t want to weigh in on the totality of evidence in the report beyond his own testimony, and didn’t want to comment on his own testimony in isolation, the people said. Mr. McGahn also didn’t view his personal opinion as relevant, because Attorney General William Barr had already said he didn’t believe the evidence in Mr. Mueller’s report amounted to obstruction of justice, the people said.

This makes it hard to read into McGahn's refusal to comply with Trump's request. And this matters, because Democrats are preparing to hold a hearing to question McGahn. While he's unlikely to stray from the account he gave Mueller, Democrats shouldn't expect that he'll necessarily agree with the special counsel's analysis or that he'll be eager to criticize the man he used to work for. McGahn's testimony will be something of a wildcard; Democrats shouldn't be confused into thinking he's on their side.

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