WASHINGTON (AP) — A day after announcing the departure of his White House counsel, President Donald Trump teased Thursday that he’s excited about his choice for a replacement but isn’t ready to share his new lawyer’s name.
Trump said Wednesday on Twitter that Don McGahn will leave in the fall. He has been a consequential insider on Trump’s legal team and a key figure in the administration’s handling of the federal investigation into Russian election interference and possible Trump campaign collusion.
“I am very excited about the person who will be taking the place of Don McGahn as White House Councel!,” Trump tweeted Thursday, misspelling “counsel.”
Then he took a shot at reports that McGahn had threatened to resign last year if the president continued to press for the removal of special counsel Robert Mueller as head of the Russia investigation.
“I liked Don, but he was NOT responsible for me not firing Bob Mueller or Jeff Sessions. So much Fake Reporting and Fake News!” Trump said, referring as well to his attorney general, who recused himself from the investigation, much to the president’s annoyance.
Trump said Wednesday that the Russia investigation was not a factor, “even a little bit,” in his decision about McGahn’s departure.
McGahn’s exit, which has been expected for some time, continues the churn of top officials as the administration sets records for turnover and the White House struggles to fill key vacancies.
Unlike some less-amiable separations, however, Trump praised McGahn as “a really good guy” who has done “an excellent job.”
Trump said Wednesday that McGahn’s departure had nothing to do with the lawyer’s interviews with the special counsel. Pressed by reporters, Trump said he had approved the interviews and was unconcerned about anything McGahn might tell prosecutors.
“We do everything straight,” he said. “We do everything by the book.”
The departure of Trump’s top lawyer will hit one of the most critical — and yet least visible — positions in the West Wing. Besides dealing with Mueller’s investigation, McGahn has had important input on a range of issues from policy to personnel to national security.
He will remain at the White House until after the expected Senate confirmation vote for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Trump said
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 him and has the departing attorney’s support, two administration officials said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
Asked about Flood on Wednesday, 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, 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.
But McGahn’s time has also been marked by tumult as he has been the main point of contact inside the White House for Mueller’s investigation. He has met with investigators on at least three occasions for many hours at a time.
Trump’s announcement came more than a week after a New York Times report that McGahn had been cooperating extensively with Mueller’s probe.
Trump insisted at the time that his general counsel wasn’t a “RAT” and contrasted him with John Dean, the White House counsel for President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Dean ultimately cooperated with prosecutors.
Senate Republicans aren’t happy to see McGahn leaving.
Chuck Grassley of Iowa, 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.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hailed McGahn as the “most impressive White House Counsel during my time in Washington.” He called the departure “sad news for our country.”
When Trump announced McGahn’s appointment in November 2016, he cited the attorney’s “brilliant legal mind, excellent character and a deep understanding of constitutional law.”
But McGahn quickly clashed with the president over the Russia investigation.
McGahn, a defender of executive powers, broke with some members of Trump’s legal team as he encouraged a less-cooperative stance toward Mueller’s investigation, believing it could constrain future presidents.
As members of Trump’s legal team looked into potential conflicts of interest involving Mueller, Trump directed McGahn to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to raise the perceived conflicts and push for Mueller’s ouster, a person familiar with the matter said at the time.
McGahn put off making the call because he disagreed with the strategy, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.
When the president persisted in pressing the issue, McGahn told other senior White House officials that he would resign if Trump didn’t back off. Trump let the matter drop, the person said.
The president later denounced the reports as “fake news.”
McGahn served as chairman of the Federal Election Commission and as a counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee before joining Trump’s orbit as general counsel to his 2016 campaign.