Don McGahn's White House exit sets Trump off: Do late-night tweets reveal an unraveling presidency?

Trump responds to reports that Ivanka and Jared Kushner pushed out the White House counsel in a wild tweetstorm

By Matthew Rozsa

Published August 30, 2018 10:39AM (EDT)

Don McGahn (Getty/Alex Wong)
Don McGahn (Getty/Alex Wong)

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Thursday morning to vent about so-called "fake news" reports which claim that White House counsel Don McGahn has been pushed out by the president's daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

The story that the president was apparently referring to came from The New York Times. According to reporters Julie Hirschfeld DavisMichael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, Trump announced McGahn's departure without previously notifying McGahn himself. The situation raises questions about whether other members of the White House Counsel's Office will also part ways with the White House, given that many of the staffers are intensely loyal to McGahn. In his tweet announcing McGahn's departure, Trump said that he would stay with the White House until Brett Kavanaugh is appointed to the Supreme Court, a fact that would mark the culmination of McGahn's goal to remake the judiciary by appointing dozens of right-wing judges to powerful bench positions.

The report also noted that McGahn and Trump have had a rocky relationship after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than fire special counsel Robert Mueller in June 2017.

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In terms of the parts of the report that pertain to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, here is what it had to say:

Mr. Trump had grown tired of seeing reports that Mr. McGahn might leave, according to people familiar with his thinking, and decided to take away any wiggle room he might have. Allies of Mr. McGahn said on Wednesday that he believed the story was planted by his critics to force the president’s hand and hasten the timeline of announcing his departure.

Among those critics have been Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Ms. Trump complained bitterly to her father about The Times report this month, which detailed how some in the White House were unaware of the extent of Mr. McGahn’s cooperation with Mr. Mueller, according to a person briefed on the discussion.

One person close to Ms. Trump insisted that she had not criticized Mr. McGahn over his appearance before Mr. Mueller and that she had not played a role in his departure. Mr. Trump himself weighed in on Thursday morning on Twitter.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that many of Trump's advisers are concerned that he is losing the staff necessary to effectively fight the investigations into Trump's behavior that will be launched by Democrats if they take over the House in November:

President Trump’s advisers and allies are increasingly worried that he has neither the staff nor the strategy to protect himself from a possible Democratic takeover of the House, which would empower the opposition party to shower the administration with subpoenas or even pursue impeachment charges.

Within Trump’s orbit, there is consensus that his current legal team is not equipped to effectively navigate an onslaught of congressional demands, and there has been broad discussion about bringing on new lawyers experienced in white-collar defense and political scandals.

The president and some of his advisers have discussed possibly adding veteran defense attorney Abbe Lowell, who currently represents Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, to Trump’s personal legal team if an impeachment battle or other fights with Congress emerge after the midterm elections, according to people familiar with the discussions.

"If the Republicans are aware of these issues, why aren't they investigating them? Why are they just seeking to bury them or to scare their base about what a Democratic majority would look like?" Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., told Salon on Wednesday. "What we are promising people in our campaign this fall is that one of the pillars of our agenda is going to be to scrub out corruption. And that includes conducting all the investigations that Republicans are unwilling to do. They've done a nice job of laying out what is alarming to not just Democratic members but also most Americans when it comes to corruption."

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Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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Don Mcgahn Donald Trump Ivanka Trump Jared Kushner