White House counsel Don McGahn to leave his role

Move comes amid strained relations with Trump and an interview with Mueller team

File image of White House counsel Don McGahn listening to Donald Trump speak in the White House, Washington, DC, US. File photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

File image of White House counsel Don McGahn listening to Donald Trump speak in the White House, Washington, DC, US. File photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

 

White House counsel Don McGahn, whose relationship with US president Donald Trump has been strained by the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, is set to leave the job in the coming weeks.

Mr Trump announced on Twitter on Wednesday that Mr McGahn would leave after the US Senate confirms the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the supreme court. He will become the latest in a long string of high-ranking advisers to leave Mr Trump’s side.

Mr McGahn did not know the tweet was coming, an administration official said, but he had been planning to leave the White House because he felt he had achieved his goals in getting conservatives named to federal judgeships, rolling back regulations and reeling in bureaucracy.

Mr Trump announced Mr McGahn’s departure less than two weeks after it was reported that Mr McGahn had voluntarily co-operated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign in the 2016 election, which the president has repeatedly decried as a witch hunt.

In his interviews with Mr Mueller’s team, Mr McGahn was asked about Mr Trump’s actions in firing FBI director James Comey in 2017, the Washington Post has reported. Other topics included Mr Trump’s criticism of attorney general Jeff Sessions and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia inquiry, the Washington Post said.

Mr Trump has said he gave Mr McGahn permission to talk with investigators and that he had nothing to hide.

Mr Mueller’s investigation already has resulted in guilty pleas for several Trump insiders, as well as indictments, co-operation deals and one conviction. Russia has denied meddling in the election.

Trump has not settled on a replacement for Mr McGahn, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters. There has been speculation the job would go to Emmet Flood, a veteran Washington lawyer who joined the White House in May to help with the Russia inquiry.

“People like him,” Ms Sanders said of Mr Flood. “He’s super well-respected around the building but there’s not a plan locked in place at this point.”

Mr McGahn could not be reached for comment.

With his departure, he will become part of an unprecedented level of turnover among modern administrations studied by presidential scholars. Of Mr Trump’s top 27 aides listed on his first annual staff report to Congress, Mr McGahn will be the 17th to depart.

Dismay

The news was met with dismay by Senate judiciary committee chairman Chuck Grassley, who wrote in a tweet addressed to Trump: “U can’t let that happen.”

George Hartmann, spokesman for the committee, said Mr Grassley viewed Mr McGahn as the lynchpin to Mr Trump’s push to fill judicial vacancies.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell praised Mr McGahn as “the most impressive White House counsel during my time in Washington”.

With help from Mr McGahn, Mr Trump has reshaped the federal judiciary in a conservative direction, tilting the balance on the supreme court to the right, and filling a record-breaking number of seats on the influential federal appeals courts during his first two years in office.

Mr Trump’s success in filling vacancies has been key to building and retaining political support among Republican voters.

In one of his stormiest moments as White House lawyer, Mr McGahn threatened to quit in June 2017 because he was “fed up” after Mr Trump insisted he take steps to remove Mr Mueller, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier this year.

Mr McGahn also was involved in the controversy surrounding Mr Trump’s firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. In January 2017, then acting attorney general Sally Yates informed Mr McGahn that Mr Flynn had misled the FBI about his discussions with former Russian ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak. Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI.

Mr McGahn, a Washington insider who was chief counsel for Mr Trump’s presidential run, was one of the first advisers Trump named to the White House after being elected in November 2016. – Reuters