It’s been a tough couple of days for whatever’s left of Donald Trump’s legal team and in keeping with recent precedent, the problem is, well, Donald Trump’s legal team.
From the very beginning of the Robert Mueller probe, experts variously suggested that Trump was woefully outgunned on the legal front. That contention has been borne out on any number of occasions and it was validated in dramatic fashion over the weekend when The New York Times detailed some 30 hours of interviews White House counsel Don McGahn gave to the special counsel.
Apparently, McGahn couldn’t understand why John Dowd and Ty Cobb insisted on being transparent with Mueller. Lacking a plausible explanation for what he and his attorney believed to be a foolhardy strategy, McGahn assumed he was being set up to take the fall for obstruction. So, in an effort to inoculate himself, the White House counsel told Mueller’s team everything he knew about key events including, but no limited to, the firing of James Comey, Trump’s efforts to pressure Jeff Sessions and, importantly, the President’s alleged attempts to fire Mueller himself.
Subsequently, the Times reported that McGahn and his lawyer Bill Burck did not provide Trump’s legal team with a detailed account of the Mueller interviews and worse still, whatever account they did provide was conveyed only secondhand to Rudy Giuliani once John Dowd resigned. In other words, Trump’s team really has no idea what McGahn might have said.
On Monday, the President lashed out at the special “councel” on Twitter, calling Mueller’s team a “national disgrace” and branding them a gang of “Angry Thugs”. [sic] [sic]
Naturally, McGahn and Burck are at pains to tell Giuliani and Trump what Mueller might know or, more to the point, whether McGahn might have said anything over the course of 30 hours of interview time that could implicate Trump in wrongdoing.
According to the Washington Post, McGahn and Burck “do not believe” McGahn implicated the President. Here’s WaPo:
McGahn’s attorney, Bill Burck, told Trump’s lawyers this past weekend that McGahn did not assert that Trump engaged in any wrongdoing when he spoke to Mueller’s investigators in three lengthy interviews since last November, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.
“He did not incriminate him,” Burck wrote in one email, which was described by multiple people.
Burck has assured Trump’s lawyers that McGahn did not witness Trump engaged in any crime and would have resigned from his White House post if he had, according to people familiar with the conversations.
At the same time, Burck has cautioned them that McGahn is only one witness and that he does not know all the evidence Mueller has gathered that could pose problems for Trump, or how the information McGahn has provided could fit into the broader case.
Apparently, John Dowd “debriefed” McGahn following a marathon interview with Mueller in November, but in what I can only describe as a colossal mistake, “asked only for a broad assessment of how McGahn’s sessions with Mueller had gone, rather than specifics”. That’s according to WaPo’s sources.
Why Dowd would not be interested in the “specifics” of an “all-day” interview between the White House counsel and a team of experienced, aggressive prosecutors looking for information about the President is beyond me. It sounds like Dowd just kind of casually asked “how’d it go, Don?”
“A deeper debrief might have prevented the White House from being surprised by some details that later emerged in news reports,” WaPo goes on to write, again citing a source although they needn’t have bothered considering that’s a common sense assessment.
Of course this goes well beyond McGahn. Trump’s transparency strategy led to Mueller’s team interviewing a long list of Trump officials and advisors including Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon. Again, McGahn did not think that was a good idea, but John Dowd and Jay Sekulow were out on Monday insisting that it’s aaaaaall part of the master plan.
“The strategy is working,” Dowd said in a statement. “What Ty Cobb and John Dowd did was very calculated,” Sekulow mused.
Well John and Jay, not according to Don McGahn it isn’t/wasn’t.
Time will tell whether the White House counsel will be proven right to have suggested that being open with Mueller was a potentially disastrous decision and there will be more than a little irony involved if it’s McGahn’s interviews that end up implicating the President.