Commentary

Don McGahn Is the MVP of the Trump Administration

One of the biggest heroes of the Mueller report is Don McGahn, who served as White House counsel from President Donald Trump’s inauguration through October 2018. McGahn sat for 30 hours of interviews with special counsel Robert Mueller. And, in the report, Mueller described him as a “credible witness with no motive to lie.”

The report reveals that soon after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed the special counsel, Trump tried to get McGahn to remove Mueller. McGahn repeatedly declined — and, in May 2017, he warned this action would appear as an attempt to “meddle in the investigation.”

When Trump called McGahn in June to prod him again to remove Mueller, the White House counsel was at his wits’ end. “McGahn did not carry out the direction,” details the report, “deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre.”

Later, when Trump asked McGahn why he had told Mueller about the order to have him fired, McGahn explained that “he had to” because their conversations weren’t protected by attorney-client privilege. This latter point is important because McGahn stood up for the idea that the White House counsel’s loyalty is to the Office of the President, not to the President himself.

Trump seemed satisfied by that explanation, but then asked, “What about those notes? Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.” McGahn replied that he is a “real lawyer” and that notes create a clear record.

In that judgment, McGahn was right — and more helpful to the President than Michael Cohen, his personal attorney and fixer, or any other of the non-notetaking lawyers who made a Trump-related appearance in the Mueller investigation.

In short, McGahn’s professionalism and commitment to legal ethics under challenging circumstances shine through in the Mueller report. When you add all that to his stunning success as architect of a winning strategy on judicial nominations — including two Supreme Court justices and a record number of circuit judges — McGahn comes out looking as the early nominee for MVP of the Trump administration.

Ilya Shapiro is director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute.