President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that his White House counsel, Don McGahn, will be departing in the fall after the expected Senate confirmation vote for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. That will create a vacancy in an office that has been at a center of conflict over the special counsel’s Trump–Russia investigation.
Unlike some less-amiable administration separations, Trump praised his top White House lawyer, tweeting, “I have worked with Don for a long time and truly appreciate his service!” McGahn’s departure had been expected as the White House enters the fall elections and looks to win confirmation for Kavanaugh, the president’s second opportunity to place his imprint on the Supreme Court.
McGahn, a top election lawyer who served as general counsel on Trump’s campaign, has played a pivotal role in the president’s remaking of the federal judiciary with young, conservative judges. He also helped guide Trump’s selection of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and the president’s nomination of Kavanaugh and helped oversee a dramatic rollback of Obama era regulations.
The White House counsel is among the most critical — and yet least visible — positions within the West Wing, with input on a range of issues from policy to personnel to national security.
But McGahn’s time has also been marked by tumult as the main point of contact inside the White House for the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. McGahn, who has consented to interviews with Mueller’s team, threatened to resign last year if Trump continued to press for Mueller’s removal.
Trump’s announcement comes more than a week after a New York Times report that McGahn had been cooperating extensively with Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with Trump’s Republican campaign.
Trump insisted at the time that his general counsel wasn’t a “RAT” and accused Mueller’s team of “looking for trouble.” He contrasted McGahn with John Dean, the White House counsel for President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Dean ultimately cooperated with prosecutors and helped bring down the Nixon presidency in 1974, though he served a prison term for obstruction of justice.
McGahn’s impending departure is raising concerns within Congress. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted after the president’s announcement: “I hope it’s not true McGahn is leaving White House Counsel. U can’t let that happen.”
Emmet Flood, who joined Trump’s White House in May as in-house counsel for the Mueller probe, has been considered a leading candidate to replace McGahn.
Asked about Flood, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “People like him. He’s super well-respected around the building. But there’s not a plan locked in place at this point.”
McGahn, 50, has navigated many of the storms of the first 19 months of the Trump White House, figuring in the drama surrounding the firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia case.