It was the best of times in Volume I, it was the worst of times in Volume II. Now that the focus of Robert Mueller’s report has shifted from the no-joy on Russia collusion to the antics on obstruction, Donald Trump seems much less satisfied with the conclusions of the special counsel. Trump took to Twitter to vent his spleen about the “fabricated” tales of his actions during the investigation, calling them “total bulls***”:
Other than that, Mr. Trump, how did you like the book? At least for now, this was a rantus interruptus; despite the ellipsis in the second tweet, Trump never completed his thought. Perhaps he realized it’s a lost cause. With the report now out, the biggest part of the story is that Mueller never made an argument for charging obstruction, which became the biggest legal threat to his presidency — from Mueller, anyway. There’s still the Southern District of New York and their probe into whatever Michael Cohen claims to know about Trump’s campaign and personal finances.
Trump hangs his hat in this rant on a curious point, too — the fact that some of his staff kept notes of their meetings. That’s practically de rigueur in White Houses, and for that matter in business in general. Attorneys in particular usually keep detailed notes in order to have references available for later use. In fact, Axios has takes note of note-taking in the Mueller report, specifically about Trump’s unhappiness with former White House counsel Don McGahn over that very practice:
The President also asked McGahn in the meeting why he had told Special Counsel’s Office investigators that the President had told him to have the Special Counsel removed. McGahn responded that he had to and that his conversations with the President were not protected by attorney-client privilege. The President then asked, “What-about these notes? Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’ t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.” McGahn responded that he keeps notes because he is a “real lawyer” and explained that notes create a record and are not a bad thing. The President said, ” I’ve had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He did not take notes.”
The problem for Trump might have been understanding that McGahn wasn’t his attorney; he was the White House counsel, which serves the office and not the man in it. That meant that McGahn had less leeway to resist outside interrogation about what took place in those meetings, and one way to ensure that McGahn kept facts straight was to take notes. Once the White House grasped the extent of McGahn’s cooperation, it created a lot of anger within Trump’s inner circle, Jonathan Swan reports. Not that there was much McGahn could do under questioning from prosecutors except to cooperate:
Anger at McGahn after the report came out was shared among a number of Trump allies, both inside the White House and close to the president.
Defenders of the former counsel said he just did what he had to do: Answer questions under oath. “Don had an unenviable job of trying to school the first outsider president in the legal ways of Washington,” a source close to McGahn told me.
It’s curious to attack McGahn over the rather routine notion that a lawyer takes notes, but it’s also curious in another way. Most of what gets described in Volume II as potentially obstructive demands were made as arguments by Trump himself, although not necessarily as orders. Trump ranted for months about Mueller and his “18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters” and the illegitimacy of their investigation. He threatened to fire Mueller, publicly mused over his pardon power, and generally vented about the unfairness of the situation — the latter with some justification, as Volume I bears out. Mueller took all of that in stride, including the variations in private conversations, and still didn’t come up with a legal conclusion on obstruction.
Why not let retiring dogs lie, so to speak? Why litigate past the anti-climax? Perhaps someone at the White House let common sense prevail, leaving this Twitter rant cut off in mid-stream forever.
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