‘Point of no return’: Don McGahn describes concerns with Trump’s handling of Russia probe

WASHINGTON – Former White House counsel Don McGahn told a House panel that former President Donald Trump’s conduct toward former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation threatened to “spiral out of control” to a “point of no return,” according to a transcript released Wednesday.

McGahn was a key figure in Mueller’s report about Russian interference in the 2016 election. McGahn described several episodes of potential obstruction by Trump trying to remove or curb Mueller’s probe, whMcGahn defied Trump’s demands.

“(W)hat I was not going to do is cause any sort of chain reaction that would cause this to spiral out of control in a way that wasn’t in the best interests” of Trump, McGahn said.

After one call with Trump, McGahn said he felt “frustrated, perturbed, trapped. Many emotions.”

Former White House counsel Don McGahn arrives to answer questions behind closed doors from House Judiciary Committee investigators, two years after House Democrats originally sought his testimony as part of the probe into former President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 4, 2021. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)

McGahn also rebutted Trump’s later denial that he ever sought to fire Mueller. McGahn called it “disappointing” to read Trump’s comments in Mueller’s report, but that “certainly, at least the conflict of interest issue and whether that would preclude Mueller from being special counsel, certainly was discussed.”

Mueller made no decision on whether to charge Trump because of a Justice Department policy barring prosecution of sitting presidents.

The transcript confirmed McGahn’s description of Trump’s demands that Mueller be removed, which Democrats hailed as justification for pursuing his testimony.

McGahn fought a House Judiciary Committee subpoena for testimony in federal court for years. Under a compromise, McGahn testified behind closed doors Friday and the transcript was released Wednesday. The compromise averted a clash between the branches of government over the extent of oversight Congress could force on the executive branch.

“All told, Mr. McGahn’s testimony gives us a fresh look at how dangerously close President Trump brought us to, in Mr. McGahn’s words, the ‘point of no return,’” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the committee chairman.

But Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, said in a memo that the testimony “uncovered no new evidence of misconduct, wrongdoing or criminality on the part of President Trump.”

The bulk of McGahn’s testimony was already known from Mueller’s report. 

McGahn told Mueller’s investigators that Trump called him at home June 17, 2017, and told him Mueller should be removed. McGahn didn’t carry out the direction, but Trump later met with McGahn in the Oval Office and pressured him again.

McGahn later told Trump’s chief of staff that the president had asked him to “do crazy s—,” according to Mueller’s report.

Democrats said their interview confirmed that Trump lied when he denied the accuracy of Mueller’s report and confirmed that McGahn was a source for a Washington Post story about Trump trying to remove Mueller.

McGahn had compared any effort to remove Mueller as comparable to the “Saturday Night Massacre” under former President Richard Nixon, who fired several top officials while he was under investigation for Watergate.

“‘Inflection point,’ with that I meant a point of no return,” McGahn told lawmakers. “If the Acting Attorney General received what he thought was a direction from the counsel to the President to remove a special counsel, he would either have to remove the special counsel or resign.  We are still talking about the ‘Saturday Night Massacre’ decades and decades later.” 

Jordan said McGahn provided no testimony about Trump colluding with Russia, which was what Mueller was investigating. Jordan also noted that Trump cooperated with Mueller’s investigation, allowing McGahn to testify.

“McGahn explained that President Trump was frustrated with the pace and origins of the Russia investigation and Special Counsel’s probe,” Jordan said in his memo. 

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