Former White House Counsel Don McGahn was one of the star witnesses in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal. As we've discussed, the Republican lawyer spoke with investigators for dozens of hours, and in the redacted version of Mueller's report, the former White House counsel was cited more than 150 times.
In some of the episodes in which Donald Trump allegedly obstructed justice, the claims of suspected criminal misconduct were based heavily on what McGahn told investigators.
It was against this backdrop that the former White House counsel, following a prolonged legal fight, answered questions on Capitol Hill last week, and a transcript was released to the public this week. McGahn's former client pretended to be delighted.
Trump claimed he was "totally exonerated" by McGahn's testimony, even though the top lawyer detailed the president's improper efforts to get special counsel Robert Mueller fired and undermine his probe. "I have also been totally exonerated in Congress by the testimony of former White House lawyer Don McGahn," Trump wrote in an email message. "It came, it went, and it was a big 'nothing burger.'"
Right off the bat, whenever the former president references the word "exonerated," it's worth pausing to appreciate just how frequently he's used the word to lie. It's effectively a tell: when Trump says "exonerated," he's nearly always referring to a situation in which he hasn't been exonerated at all.
And as it turns out, this is the latest example of the larger phenomenon. According to McGahn's testimony, Trump not only made direct efforts to fire Robert Mueller during the investigation into the Russia, the then-president also pushed the then-White House counsel to issue a false public statement about events that had actually happened.
I can appreciate why we've grown inured to some of the more obscure examples of Trump's misconduct, but before 2017, it would've been a dramatic scandal for a sitting American president to lean on his White House counsel to lie to the public about an episode in which the president may have obstructed justice.
In fact, the broader takeaway of this week's revelations is that McGahn refused to go along with some of Trump's more outlandish directives -- including the Republican's efforts to oust Mueller -- precisely because he was concerned about the implications and consequences.
To see this as evidence of being "totally exonerated" is ridiculous.