Trump directs ire at ex-White House counsel

Some of the Mueller report's most derogatory scenes were attributed not only to the recollections of former White House counsel Donald McGahn (right) and other witnesses, but also to the notes kept by several senior Trump administration officials.
Some of the Mueller report's most derogatory scenes were attributed not only to the recollections of former White House counsel Donald McGahn (right) and other witnesses, but also to the notes kept by several senior Trump administration officials.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST
The fact that some of the notes from White House aides were the primary source material for Mr Robert Mueller's (above) report angered Mr Trump, who said they were "fabricated and totally untrue".
The fact that some of the notes from White House aides were the primary source material for Mr Robert Mueller's (above) report angered Mr Trump, who said they were "fabricated and totally untrue".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He is singled out after his extensive cooperation in chronicling Trump's actions is laid bare in Mueller report

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump seethed on Friday over the special counsel's damning portrayal of his protracted campaign to thwart the Russia investigation and directed much of his ire at former White House counsel Donald McGahn, whose ubiquity in the report's footnotes laid bare his extensive cooperation in chronicling the president's actions.

Some of the report's most derogatory scenes were attributed not only to the recollections of Mr McGahn and other witnesses, but also to the contemporaneous notes kept by several senior administration officials - the kind of paper trail that Mr Trump has long sought to avoid leaving.

Many White House aides use pen and paper both as a defensive mechanism - such as when then Chief of Staff John Kelly documented Mr Trump's move to grant security clearances to his daughter and son-in-law, Ms Ivanka Trump and Mr Jared Kushner - and as a means of creating the first draft of a page-turning presidency.

However, the fact that some of those notes became primary source material for Mr Robert Mueller to paint a vivid portrait of Mr Trump's deception and malfeasance angered the President, who was stewing over the media coverage as he decamped to Florida for the holiday weekend, according to people familiar with his thinking.

"Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue," the President tweeted on Friday morning from his Mar-a-Lago club.

"Watch out for people that take so-called 'notes', when the notes never existed until needed."

'NOBODY PROVED IT'

The narrative is written as if it's all true and somebody proved it. Nobody proved it... I'm frustrated by the report because in some ways I'd love to have a trial and prove that it's not true.

MR RUDY GIULIANI, lawyer for US President Donald Trump.

Mr Trump went on to claim that some of the statements made about him in the Mueller report were "total bullshit & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad)".

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said that since charges were not brought against Trump for obstruction of justice, Mr Mueller should not have so thoroughly detailed the acts that were under examination, such as the President's attempts to remove the special counsel and curtail the probe.

"The narrative is written as if it's all true and somebody proved it. Nobody proved it," Mr Giuliani said in an interview on Friday. "I'm frustrated by the report because in some ways I'd love to have a trial and prove that it's not true."

Mr Giuliani singled out Mr McGahn, noting that Mr Trump waived executive privilege to allow him to describe episodes to Mr Mueller.

"If McGahn thought any of those things were crimes, why did he stay there?" Mr Giuliani asked. "They're trying to make it out as if there's something illegal about what happened with McGahn. The guy is a very good lawyer. If he believed that there was something illegal, he wouldn't have stayed in his job."

Mr William Burck, counsel to Mr McGahn, issued a statement late on Friday in response to Mr Giuliani.

"It's a mystery why Rudy Giuliani feels the need to re-litigate incidents the Attorney-General and Deputy Attorney-General have concluded were not obstruction," Mr Burck wrote.

"But they are accurately described in the report. Don, nonetheless, appreciates that the President gave him the opportunity to serve as White House counsel and assist him with his signature accomplishments."

According to the account Mr McGahn provided investigators, Mr Trump directed him to call Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, who supervised the inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and tell him to remove Mr Mueller as special counsel investigating links between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

Mr McGahn refused and prepared to resign, but was convinced by colleagues to remain as White House counsel.

One of Mr McGahn's friends, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly about the matter, said Mr McGahn was focused on his work at the Jones Day law firm and was trying to lay low, hopeful of avoiding a dispute with Mr Trump.

Mr Trump had a tempestuous working relationship with Mr McGahn, who departed the White House last autumn, but a White House official who is friendly with Mr McGahn said the President's fury was driven in part by news coverage and therefore unlikely to last long.

"If anything, Don saved this presidency from the President," one adviser said, requesting anonymity to speak candidly.

"If Don had actually gone through with what the president wanted, you would have had a constitutional crisis. The President's ego is hurt, but he's still here."

Meanwhile, the number of Americans who approve of President Trump dropped by 3 percentage points to the lowest level of the year following the release of the Mueller report, according to an exclusive Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll.

According to the poll, 37 per cent of adults in the US approved of Mr Trump's performance in office, down from 40 per cent in a similar poll conducted on April 15 and matching the lowest level of the year.

The poll found that 50 per cent of Americans agreed that "Trump or someone from his campaign worked with Russia to influence the 2016 election", and 58 per cent agreed that the President "tried to stop investigations into Russian influence on his administration".

Forty per cent said they thought Mr Trump should be impeached, while 42 per cent said he should not.

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 21, 2019, with the headline 'Trump directs ire at ex-White House counsel'. Print Edition | Subscribe