The White House requested that former White House counsel Don McGahn publicly state that President Donald Trump didn’t obstruct justice, but McGahn declined, an administration official told CNN on Friday.
The timing of the White House’s request — which was made to McGahn’s attorney William Burck through top White House lawyer Emmet Flood, according to the official — is unclear.
The official and a separate source familiar with the matter said that McGahn previously told special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators he didn’t believe Trump obstructed justice.
The episode speaks to the White House’s efforts to portray the President as absolved by the redacted Mueller report since its release last month. The Wall Street Journal first reported the White House’s appeal to McGahn.
A source familiar with Flood’s call to Burck conveying the request said Trump was upset by McGahn’s refusal to state publicly that the President did not obstruct justice.
Burck asserted Friday that McGahn’s team did not interpret the request as “any kind of threat.”
“We did not perceive it as any kind of threat or something sinister,” Burck said in a statement. “It was a request, professionally and cordially made.”
The separate source familiar with the matter said the issue was moot once Trump directed a tweet at McGahn the day after the Mueller report was released. The President tweeted a warning that day against “people that take so-called ‘notes,’ ” echoing his criticism of McGahn for taking notes, which was referenced in the Mueller report.
The source added that McGahn and his lawyer didn’t think that such a public statement was necessary because Attorney General Bill Barr had already come out and said Trump didn’t obstruct justice.
Flood’s request to McGahn was not the first overture by the administration in pursuit of such a statement, according to The New York Times. The White House first reached out to Burck after Trump’s lawyers reviewed the Mueller report prior to its public release and realized that McGahn’s testimony to investigators that he didn’t believe Trump obstructed justice did not appear in the report, the paper reported.
Sources could not confirm to CNN that Flood made two calls to Burck.
Administration officials thought that having McGahn make such a statement publicly would assuage Trump and buttress the White House’s narrative combating the Mueller report’s assessment of specific instances of potential obstruction, a person briefed on the White House’s requests to McGahn told the Times.
Barr told Congress before the report’s release that Mueller did not come to a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice and that Barr and Rosenstein had concluded that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
In the redacted report released later, Mueller indicated that the investigation into possible obstruction of justice could not clear Trump. The White House complained to Barr that Mueller should have made a decision on whether Trump obstructed justice.