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Why it matters that Trump is prepared to block McGahn's testimony

Either Trump obstructed justice or his former White House counsel lied to investigators. Which is it? The president prefers to leave the dispute unresolved.
White House counsel Don McGahn, follows Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh to his meeting with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., onCapitol Hill in...

Donald Trump seems to be aware of the congressional subpoena former White House counsel Don McGahn has received, but as of yesterday, the president doesn't seem to care about it.

President Donald Trump said on Thursday he did not believe he would allow former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify to committees in Congress, saying McGahn had already spoken to the special counsel on the Russia probe."I would say it's done," Trump told Fox News."I've had him testifying already for 30 hours," Trump said, referring to McGahn's testimony to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team.

The president added, in a difficult-to-understand sentence, "I don't think I can let him and then tell everybody else you can because especially him because he was the counsel."

Trump's comments on this weren't exactly categorical, though in context, it seemed clear that the president is prepared to block McGahn from testifying.

And if so, that's no small development.

Few figures play as an important a role in the Mueller report as Don McGahn. As we've discussed -- and as Trump acknowledged -- the Republican lawyer spoke with investigators for dozens of hours, and in the redacted version of Mueller's report, the former White House counsel is cited more than 150 times.

In some of the episodes in which Trump allegedly obstructed justice, the claims of suspected criminal misconduct are based heavily on what McGahn told investigators.

Indeed, as the special counsel's findings made clear, the former White House counsel very nearly resigned because the president directed him to "do crazy s**t," including an incident in which, according to McGahn, Trump pressed the lawyer to push the Justice department to derail the investigation by getting rid of Mueller and creating a false document to cover that up.

Naturally, Democratic lawmakers have a few questions about McGahn's controversial interactions with his former boss. Trump wants to block those conversations, but he also wants to accuse McGahn of lying -- and that's a problematic combination.

Last week, the president wrote on Twitter that he "never told" McGahn to fire Mueller, contradicting the former White House counsel's account. A day later, Trump repeated the line during a brief Q&A with reporters: "I never told Don McGahn to fire Mueller."

So, who's lying? McGahn told Mueller one thing; Trump told the public the opposite. If the former White House counsel's version of events is accurate, the president may have committed criminal obstruction. If the president's version of events is accurate, McGahn lied to federal investigators.

It's against this backdrop that the House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed McGahn in order to better understand what, exactly, happened. As of yesterday, Trump's position, in effect, was, "I've decided no one should know exactly what happened."

That's a problematic position for all sorts of reasons -- it reinforces concerns about a presidential cover-up, for example -- but it also might be legally untenable. Trump isn't exactly in a position to claim that his conversations with his former White House counsel are privileged after he (a) let McGahn talk to the special counsel's office for dozens of hours, and (b) spoke publicly, more than once, about those same conversations.

Meanwhile, though we can't say with certainty what McGahn is thinking, he's no doubt aware of the fact that the president has, more than once, suggested to the public that McGahn lied to investigators.

That's probably the sort of thing he'd like to clear up -- perhaps with some congressional testimony.