Trump gets defensive about McGahn WH exit

President Donald Trump tweeted that the Russia investigation has nothing to do with the exit of White House counsel Don McGahn. CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports.

Posted: Sep 6, 2018 2:21 AM
Updated: Sep 6, 2018 2:21 AM

When President Donald Trump confirmed that White House counsel Don McGahn would be leaving his job this fall, he made it seem like it was a mutually agreed-upon decision.

"White House Counsel Don McGahn will be leaving his position in the fall, shortly after the confirmation (hopefully) of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court," Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. "I have worked with Don for a long time and truly appreciate his service!"

Later Wednesday, Trump voiced a similar sentiment: "Been here now it'll be almost two years and a lot of affection for Don," Trump told reporters, adding of his White House counsel: "He's done an excellent job."

Trump's White House spent much of the last 24 hours selling that very idea, too. This was all part of McGahn's broader plan, he was always going to leave after the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. And on and on it went.

Until Thursday morning, when -- amid a blizzard of tweets -- Trump offered up this one on McGahn's departure: "The Rigged Russia Witch Hunt did not come into play, even a little bit, with respect to my decision on Don McGahn!"

So, um, what?

"My decision on Don McGahn"? That certainly sounds like McGahn was either a) fired or b) told to find a new gig. Both of which are very different than Trump and McGahn agreeing that post-Kavanaugh confirmation was the right time for him to execute his long-planned departure from the White House.

Trump's tweet Thursday morning certainly gives credence to the notion that McGahn's departure wasn't entirely innocent or scheduled. While Trump insisted that his "decision" on McGahn had nothing to do with the "Rigged Russia Witch Hunt," it is a fact that the announced "decision" came just 11 days after it was revealed that McGahn had spent more than 30 hours in interviews with special counsel Robert Mueller's team. And that Trump was "unnerved" when he learned that information.

The big question -- for which I don't have an answer -- is what prompted Trump's tweet about McGahn on Thursday.

The less damaging option is that Trump, who always wants to be portrayed as the boss, the decider, the guy who makes call in an authoritative way, was annoyed at how the McGahn departure news was playing over the last 24 hours. Was there too much McGahn-is-jumping-off-a-sinking-ship narrative for Trump's taste? Did he decide to use his 54 million Twitter followers to make sure that the Trump-is-a-tough-and-exacting-boss storyline was the dominant one today?

The far more damaging option, of course, is that Trump got rid of McGahn exactly because he was sick of McGahn not being enough of a team player in relation to the Mueller probe -- and kind of, sort of accidentally revealed that on Twitter Thursday morning.

Remember that most of Trump's tweets are not vetted in any meaningful way -- either by his legal or political teams. So while it might seem somewhat far-fetched that the President of the United States accidentally told a lot more of the truth than he should have when it came to the departure of the White House's top lawyer, it really isn't, given what we know about Trump and his Twitter habits.

How McGahn's departure came about isn't a meaningless question. Not only did McGahn spend more than 30 hours with Mueller's team, but he also was the person who kept Trump from firing Mueller last summer. And the person who acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed about Michael Flynn's lack of candor about his ties to and contacts with the Russians.

In short: McGahn had his hand in a whole lot of pots related to Mueller and the probe the former FBI director is running to look into Russian interference in the 2016 election -- and the possibility of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

Given all of that, if Trump fired McGahn it sends a very different signal than if they simply parted ways amicably. I'm on the record as being skeptical about the latter explanation from the minute Trump offered it. And now the President himself has provided even more evidence to suggest that we should all be skeptical about his initial explanation on McGahn's departure.

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