Top White House lawyer to leave as Russia probe heats up

Don McGahn's departure signals more upheaval in the US President's legal team.

US President Donald Trump. PHOTO | MANDEL NGAN | AFP  

IN SUMMARY

  • White House counsel Don McGahn will be leaving his White House post in the fall.

  • The New York Times reported that President Donald Trump made the announcement on Twitter without first telling McGahn.

  • McGahn has struggled to prevent the president from acting on his impulses to interfere dangerously in the Russia investigation.

  • Trump, who has repeatedly called the probe a "rigged witch hunt," said he had authorized his team to "fully cooperate" with investigators.

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WASHINGTON,

Donald Trump said Wednesday that White House counsel Don McGahn will be leaving his post, signaling more upheaval in the US President's legal team as the probe into Russia's election interference closes in on his inner circle.

McGahn, who has advised Trump on dealing with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, also has been interviewed at length as a cooperating witness by Mueller's team.

REPLACEMENT

He will be leaving his White House post "in the fall," Trump said via Twitter.

The 50-year-old lawyer is one of the few people left in the White House who had a senior role in Trump's election campaign, where McGahn was general counsel.

His replacement, according to media reports, could be his current deputy White House counsel Emmet Flood, a Washington veteran who represented president Bill Clinton when he faced impeachment in the late 1990s.

Trump also maintains a team of private lawyers led by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to deal with his personal legal troubles.

McGahn's departure will come "shortly after the confirmation (hopefully) of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court," Trump said.

"I have worked with Don for a long time and truly appreciate his service!" he added.

GOOD SERVICE

But despite that assertion, Trump made the announcement on Twitter without first telling McGahn, The New York Times reported, citing people close to the president and the lawyer.

As the president's official legal advisor, McGahn has served Trump well, advising on relations with Congress and the Justice Department as well as dealing with Mueller.

He has also been at the center of one of the Trump administration's biggest political successes: placing dozens of pro-Republican, conservative judges on the Supreme Court and other federal courts around the country.

McGahn was instrumental in Trump's nomination of both Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh -- judges with strong conservative records -- to the Supreme Court.

But his personal relations with Trump have been formal and at times testy, as he has tried to protect the president from a slew of accusations and investigations into his personal behavior, his business, and his campaign's alleged collusion with Russians in the 2016 election.

TRUMP'S IMPULSES

According to media reports, McGahn has struggled to prevent the president from acting on his impulses to interfere dangerously in the Russia investigation.

He also has had to mediate the deep tensions between Trump and the Justice Department over the probe.

According to the New York Times, McGahn threatened to quit in June 2017 rather than carry out Trump's directive to fire Mueller, just weeks after he was named.

McGahn has also pushed back when Trump has sought to oust Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also out of frustration over the Mueller probe.

Those and other episodes, including the firing of FBI director James Comey, have made McGahn a potentially important witness as Mueller examines whether Trump illegally tried to obstruct the investigation -- an offense that could lead to impeachment.

COOPERATION

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that McGahn had "cooperated extensively" with Mueller's team, taking part in at least three interviews totaling 30 hours.

Trump, who has repeatedly called the probe a "rigged witch hunt," said he had authorized his team to "fully cooperate" with investigators.

But the Times said McGahn's cooperation arose in part from a feeling that he needed to protect himself, and speculation quickly mounted about whether McGahn's testimony could harm the president.

Trump suffered a one-two punch in court this month, when his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and former campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty of tax and bank fraud.

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