US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that White House counsel Don McGahn would leave his post, signaling more upheaval in the US president’s legal team as the probe into Russia’s election interference closes in on his inner circle.
McGahn, who has advised Trump on dealing with US special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, has also been interviewed at length as a cooperating witness by Mueller’s team.
He is to leave his White House post “in the fall,” Trump said on Twitter.
The 50-year-old lawyer is one of the few people left in the White House who had a senior role in Trump’s election campaign, where McGahn was general counsel.
His replacement, according to media reports, could be deputy White House counsel Emmet Flood, a Washington veteran who represented then-US president Bill Clinton when he faced impeachment in the late 1990s.
Trump also maintains a team of private lawyers led by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani to deal with his personal legal troubles.
McGahn’s departure will come “shortly after the confirmation (hopefully) of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court,” Trump said, adding: “I have worked with Don for a long time and truly appreciate his service.”
However, despite that assertion, Trump made the announcement on Twitter without first telling McGahn, the New York Times reported, citing people close to the president and the lawyer.
As the president’s official legal advisor, McGahn has served Trump well, advising on relations with the US Congress and the US Department of Justice, as well as dealing with Mueller.
He has also been at the center of one of the Trump administration’s biggest political successes: placing dozens of pro-Republican, conservative judges on the US Supreme Court and other federal courts around the country.
McGahn was instrumental in Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — judges with strong conservative records — to the Supreme Court.
However, his personal relations with Trump have been formal and at times testy as he has tried to protect the president from a slew of accusations and investigations into his personal behavior, his business and his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russians in the 2016 election.
According to media reports, McGahn has struggled to prevent the president from acting on his impulses to interfere dangerously in the Russia investigation.
He also has had to mediate the deep tensions between Trump and the Justice Department over the probe.
The New York Times said that McGahn in June last year threatened to quit, rather than carry out Trump’s directive to fire Mueller just weeks after he was named.
McGahn has also pushed back when Trump has sought to oust US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also out of frustration over the Mueller probe.
Those and other episodes, including the firing of then-FBI director James Comey, have made McGahn a potentially important witness as Mueller examines whether Trump illegally tried to obstruct the investigation — an offense that could lead to impeachment.
Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that McGahn had “cooperated extensively” with Mueller’s team, taking part in at least three interviews totaling 30 hours.
Trump, who has repeatedly called the probe a “rigged witch hunt,” said he had authorized his team to “fully cooperate” with investigators.
However, the New York Times said that McGahn’s cooperation arose in part from a feeling that he needed to protect himself and speculation quickly mounted about whether McGahn’s testimony could harm the president.
Trump suffered a one-two punch in court this month when his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and former campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty of tax and bank fraud.
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