President Trump insisted Sunday that he’s unconcerned by reports that White House Counsel Don McGahn has cooperated extensively with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into possible Russian collusion and obstruction of justice.
The president said on Twitter that McGahn was not a “rat” and added, “I have nothing to hide.”
The president’s latest series of disparaging tweets came at what may be a pivotal point in the investigation into Russia’s election interference, possible Trump campaign complicity and any obstruction of justice.
The New York Times reported Saturday that McGahn had voluntarily given some 30 hours of interviews to Mueller’s team, acting in part on fears that Trump would try to shift the blame to him for any wrongdoing.
Trump, spending the weekend at his New Jersey golf resort, said he was not worried about whatever McGahn had told investigators, adding he had authorized his aides’ cooperation with the special counsel. The New York Times report noted that McGahn was personally knowledgeable about many events central to the possible obstruction of justice case being built by Mueller’s team.
Trump, who has a habit of making unguarded references while seeking to bolster a contrary argument, voiced confidence that McGahn was not a “John Dean type of RAT,’” referring to the Watergate-era White House lawyer whose testimony helped bring down President Nixon. Although the substance of McGahn’s statements to Mueller is not publicly known, Dean went on Twitter Saturday to praise the White House counsel for “doing right.”
The president’s tweets came as a parallel Mueller-related drama was playing itself out: A federal court jury was set Monday to resume deliberations in the trial of Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort, accused of tax evasion and bank fraud.
Trump, who in recent months has issued presidential pardons to some political supporters, last week took the highly unusual step of publicly opining about the case while the jury, which is not sequestered, was still out. The president said Manafort had been treated badly and was a “very good person.”
For the past week, the White House has also been confronted with a steady drip of allegations by fired presidential aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, who became a reality-show star under Trump’s tutelage. She is now promoting a book billed as a tell-all about her months in the White House, with some elements of her storyline backed by surreptitiously made recordings. On Sunday, she said on MSNBC that Trump is trying to start a “race war.”
In addition, the president has prompted an outcry by stripping former CIA Director John Brennan, an outspoken critic, of his security clearance, with the White House indicating more such intelligence defrockings are in the works. Dozens of retired intelligence professionals, including prominent former agency chiefs, have called the president’s move against Brennan an act of petty vengeance motivated by an improper desire to muzzle critics.
In the midst of the August doldrums, when the capital is normally somnolent amid the congressional recess, Sunday’s news-talk shows brought the usual mix of condemnation and praise for Trump.
But the McGahn report, the pending Manafort verdict, the security-clearance contretemps and the ugly ongoing spat with Manigault Newman — whom Trump has called a “dog” and a “lowlife” — generated a tone of urgency on the part of Trump’s opponents and supporters alike.
Some statements, though, created more confusion than clarity.
National security advisor John Bolton, defending the decision to nullify Brennan’s security clearance, suggested the former CIA chief’s denunciations of Trump were prompted by his knowledge of classified matters — implying, perhaps inadvertently, that such secret documentation of wrongdoing exists.
“A number of people have commented that [Brennan] couldn’t be in the position he’s in, of criticizing President Trump and his so-called collusion with Russia, unless he did use classified information,” Bolton told ABC’s “This Week.”
But Bolton said he didn’t know “the specifics” and did not offer any proof that Brennan had improperly cited classified information, even indirectly.
Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, meanwhile, said in a somewhat puzzling separate interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “truth isn’t truth.” The extraordinary exchange came as interviewer Chuck Todd raised the issue of a possible presidential sit-down with the special counsel. Trump’s legal team has so far blocked such an encounter, although the president has publicly expressed willingness.
“I’m not going to be rushed into having him testify so he gets trapped into perjury,” Giuliani said. “And when you tell me that he should testify because he’s going to tell the truth and he shouldn’t worry, well that’s so silly because that’s somebody’s version of the truth, not the truth.”
“Truth is truth,” Todd replied.
“No, it isn’t,” Giuliani responded. “Truth isn’t truth.”
Trump, not for the first time, invoked the McCarthy era in his Sunday tweets, echoing his contention that the Mueller probe is a witch hunt akin to the late Wisconsin senator’s crusade against supposed Communist sympathizers in the U.S. government in the 1950s.
“Mueller and his gang … make Joseph McCarthy look like a baby!” the president tweeted. “Rigged Witch Hunt!”
Some national security figures also pointed to the McCarthy precedent — but in connection with the rationale employed by Trump to revoke security clearances of former intelligence officials who voice dissent.
Retired Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Trump’s clearance revocations were reminiscent of the McCarthy era, as well as Nixon’s famous “enemies list.” Traditionally, former senior officials retain their security clearances so they can be tapped for advice in the event of a national emergency or international crisis.
Mullen, interviewed on “Fox News Sunday,” faulted Brennan for the overtly political tone of some of his remarks, but nonetheless said retaliation for such speech “historically has proven incredibly problematic for the country.”
“I am concerned about the whole issue of free speech, and as long as [Brennan] is not revealing classified information that he shouldn’t, I certainly think he has the right to speak,” Mullen said.
Some former intelligence chiefs, including Brennan, said Trump’s actions to revoke clearances might be on shaky legal ground.
Former CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said the president’s actions raised due-process questions, and Brennan said on NBC he might consider legal action to prevent others’ clearances from being stripped.
“I am going to do whatever I can personally to try to prevent these abuses in the future, and if it means going to court, I will do that,” Brennan said.