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Friday, January 26, 2018

Whose side is Don McGahn really on?

I'm going to present an off-the-wall theory -- so off-the-wall that I can't quite bring myself to believe it. But that's why you come here, isn't it? This is a place where we sometimes dare to go off the wall, even at the risk of meeting Humpty's fate.

I draw your attention to the recent NYT story about the aborted attempt to fire Mueller last June. The report refers to two unnamed sources: One is currently within the White House and one is a former high-level White House official. Many people have presumed that the missing names are White House Counsel Don McGahn and the ever-popular Steve Bannon.

The presumption is that both are now working with Mueller, or trying to curry favor with Mueller, or something of that sort. As Bill Palmer says...
It’s been fairly clear for months, and crystal clear for weeks, that White House Counsel Don McGahn has – formally or informally – flipped on Donald Trump. Everyone seems to know it but Trump, which is why McGahn still has his White House job.
But what if there's another way to look at the matter? Consider what might have happened if the NYT had not published that story.

Mueller will probably interview Trump, probably under oath. During that interview, someone on Mueller's team might well ask Trump: "Did you ever make plans to fire Bob Mueller?" (I'm not claiming that the question will be phrased precisely that way.)

If the NYT had never published that story, then Trump's response would have been along these lines: "No. Never wanted to fire Mueller. Just so you know, there was never any idea about firing Mueller. Believe me."

How do we know that Trump would have offered a blanket denial? Because he has offered a blanket denial on previous occasions.

That denial was, of course, a lie. But what of it? Lying to the press carries no consequences for this president.

Lying under oath is a very different matter. Thanks to the publication of that NYT story, Trump now knows that he can't get away with telling this particular fib.

If McGahn and Bannon really are the sources for that NYT story, then they may have just prevented Trump from falling into a perjury trap.

Maybe I'm wrong about this. As I said, I'm not convinced by my own theory. Still...slosh it around it in your skull for a bit; the idea may grow on you.

Flashback: Most have forgotten McGahn's behavior in the strange case of Michael Flynn....
Flynn quit after news reports revealed that Yates had warned McGahn in late January 2017 that Flynn had misled White House officials about details of his conversations with the Kremlin's US ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Yates explained that she met with McGahn in person on January 26, 2017, to tell him that she had information that statements by Vice President Mike Pence, based on his conversations with Flynn, were false, and Flynn was susceptible of being "essentially blackmailed by the Russians."
McGahn conducted "exhaustive and extensive questioning of Flynn," according to Spicer, and McGahn concluded that Flynn had not violated the law.

Yates' testimony immediately renewed questions about McGahn's handling of the situation: What exactly did he do with the information; did he ever sift through the evidence the Justice Department offered to show him to support the conclusion that Flynn had been compromised; who else was told of Yates' warning and when, and finally, what deliberation took place that ultimately allowed Flynn to keep his job for 18 days after Yates' revelation?

CNN reported in December that McGahn told Trump in January 2017 he believed Flynn had misled the FBI, lied to Pence and should be fired, according to a source familiar with the matter.

McGahn later tried to dissuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the investigation into any coordination between Russian meddling in the 2016 election and Trump campaign associates, according to a source close to Sessions.
McGahn was a general counsel for the Trump campaign, a counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee and the FEC Chairman from 2008 to 2013.
McGahn, a Republican who had served on the FEC since 2008, clashed frequently with Democrats as he helped push a conservative interpretation of campaign-finance laws and persistent skepticism about government oversight of political campaigns.
McGahn served on the FEC at a time of rapid change in campaign-finance law. The past several years have given rise to an explosion of outside spending, from 501(c)(4) organizations to super PACs. The Supreme Court also struck down several provisions of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as McCain-Feingold, forcing the FEC to rewrite some of its rules.

McGahn led a bloc of three Republicans who almost always voted together. Campaign-finance reform advocates and editorial boards were often critical of what they characterized as McGahn’s efforts to chip away at election rules and regulations.
We keep hearing that McGahn's loyalty goes not to Trump but to the institution of the presidency. Maybe.
McGahn's loyalty, I suspect, goes to McGahn as is the case with all these people. Once you've sold out, it's protecting your own ass that takes priority. And keeping the gravy spigots on as long as possible.

Don't think your theory sounds outlandish, Joe. No more than Bill Kristol last night or early this morning suggesting the June story redux may be McGahn sending the Trumpster a signal, attempting to tamp down a renewed desire to fire Mueller and end the investigation. Before the sh*t hits the fan.

Whatever the underlying rationale, I simply don't believe these Trumpster minions have any loyalty or affection for Trump. Nor do they show any particular respect for the Office of the Presidency or any other branch of the government. However, I am convinced that they wish to save their own skins and will do anything and everything to distract, distort and delay the inevitable outcome(s). As in prison time.

Nah. Mueller doesn't need this fact to catch Trump in a perjury trap. Trump himself is a walking perjury trap.

The sinister theory I've heard is that it was leaked by team Trump as a trial balloon. As in, what would the public reaction be if I did go through with it?
Mueller has several options. He can ask Trump for a voluntary interview, but then he cannot place him under oath, and above all, Trump can bring his lawyers along. Should Trump stupidly refuse such an interview, Mueller could then subpoena him for grand jury testimony, which takes place under oath and without lawyers. Alternatively, Mueller could go for a grand jury subpoena straight away, without asking for a voluntary interview first. Or he could test the waters with a voluntary interview and then wait for the best moment to follow up with a grand jury subpoena. At any rate, I think it’s far less important whether Trump testifies under oath (lying is a crime anyway) than whether he has to testify alone.
Note that even if you aren't under oath, making false statements to federal law enforcement officials conducting an investigation is still a crime.
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