(AP) — House Judiciary Committee
Chairman Jerrold Nadler
said Friday that a nearly eight-hour interview
with former President Donald Trump
's top White House
lawyer "shed new light on several troubling events" during his presidency, but it was unclear how Democrats would use the information long after investigations into Trump's ties to Russia
The closed-door interview with Don McGahn
, which came two years after Democrats first sought his testimony, was originally part of Democrats’ efforts to investigate whether Trump attempted to obstruct Justice Department
investigations into his 2016 presidential campaign. House Democrats
sued after McGahn defied an April
2019 subpoena on Trump’s orders.
McGahn appeared in court on Friday following a court agreement to sit for a transcribed interview behind closed doors, with his answers limited to information already publicly released in former special counsel Robert Mueller
's report on Trump and Russia, which was also released in April 2019.
Even if the interview yields new information, Democrats made it clear that it was done primarily for historical purposes and to establish a precedent that executive branch officials must comply with congressional subpoenas. Nadler said in a statement after the interview that it was a "great victory for congressional oversight," though two years had been too long.
Since Democrats first subpoenaed McGahn, Trump has been impeached twice by the House and acquitted twice by the Senate
, with neither impeachment
centered on the Russia investigations, in which Mueller specifically did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice
but also did not recommend prosecuting him, citing Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president.
Nonetheless, Mueller's report drew heavily on interviews with McGahn, who detailed the Republican
president's efforts to stymie the investigation.
In a statement issued following the nearly eight-hour interview, Nadler said he couldn't comment on McGahn's testimony, but that "McGahn was clearly distressed by President Trump's refusal to follow his legal advice, again and again, and he shed new light on several troubling events today."
As stipulated in the court agreement, Nadler stated that a transcript of the interview would be made available “at a later date.”
While the questioning was led by staff, a handful of members from both parties attended, including Republican Reps. Jim Jordan
and Matt Gaetz
Near the end of the meeting, Gaetz, a close Trump ally, said, "We've learned nothing new."
As White House counsel, McGahn had an insider's view of many of the episodes Mueller and his team investigated for potential obstruction of justice during the Russia investigation. McGahn was a pivotal — and damning — witness
against Trump, with his name mentioned hundreds of times in the Mueller report
and its footnotes.
McGahn told investigators about the president's repeated efforts to suffocate the investigation, as well as directives he said he received from the president that worried him, and how Trump demanded that he contact then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and order him to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
He also claimed that Trump had asked him to inform the deputy attorney general at the time, Rod Rosenstein, that Mueller should be removed from his position due to perceived conflicts of interest — and then, after that incident was reported in the media
, to publicly and falsely deny that demand had ever been made.
McGahn also discussed the events leading up to Trump's firing of FBI
Director James Comey, including the president's insistence on including in the termination letter the fact that Comey had assured Trump that he was not personally under investigation.
And he was present for a pivotal conversation early in the Trump administration
, when Sally Yates
, just before she was fired as acting attorney general as a holdover Obama appointee, relayed concerns to McGahn about new national security
adviser Michael Flynn
, raising the possibility that Flynn's conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — and subsequent FBI interview — lacked objectivity.
Rep. Madeleine Dean, a committee member who attended the interview, said McGahn brought to life “the chaos that must have been the White House at the time, with a president panicked over special counsel Muller’s investigation.”
McGahn finally fulfilling his obligation to testify, she said, was a “good day for democracy
Trump's Justice Department fought the testimony even after District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson
rejected arguments in 2019 that Trump's close advisers were immune from congressional subpoenas. President Joe Biden
's administration assisted in negotiating the final agreement.
This article was contributed to by Associated Press writer
Mark Sherman and photographer Scott Applewhite.