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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Don McGahn's testimony could echo Michael Cohen's on Trump deviousness

Former White House counsel Don McGahn, seen on

Former White House counsel Don McGahn, seen on Sept. 4, 2018, may have shielded President Trump from an obstruction charge. Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Brendan Smialowski

Former White House counsel Don McGahn is a Republican election lawyer by trade who, from what we know now, may have shielded President Donald Trump from an obstruction charge by refusing to carry out one of his boss' more questionable orders.

No wonder the Democratic-run House Judiciary Committee wants to interview him. And no wonder Trump's team and McGahn himself are resisting, preferring to face a contempt citation and a court case.

Trump reportedly has noted in private the money ties between his national GOP operation and the well-connected Jones Day firm, where McGahn, former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission, returned after leaving the White House.

In fact, the Republican National Committee's top expense in April was $2 million for "legal and compliance services" to Jones Day, out of $14.3 million total spending last month, according to Pro Publica.

After serving in the Trump campaign to fend off party rivals for the 2016 nomination, McGahn not only took a crucial post at the White House but brought five Jones Day lawyers there with him. Six more got senior administration posts, according to The New Yorker magazine.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's final investigative report quoted McGahn as saying Trump called him in June 2017 and "directed him to have the special counsel removed." McGahn said the president told him twice to get Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to allege that "Mueller had conflicts that precluded him from serving … "

“You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod,” the president told McGahn.

The demand "perturbed" McGahn, who told Mueller he "did not intend to act" on it since he and other Trump advisers believed the "asserted conflicts were 'silly' and 'not real.'"

Trump tried later to get McGahn to deny what happened.

A sharp difference in Trump-lawyering is clear between the credentialed, disciplined McGahn and the imprisoned, wayward New York City attorney and previous congressional witness Michael Cohen.

From different ends of the undrained swamp, each lawyer is on record as grappling differently with this client's casual truthlessness.

Here, McGahn finessed a Trump request that he endorse a blatant lie about Mueller. In contrast Cohen, involved in paying off women to silence them about affairs with Trump, lied in telling Congress the Trump Organization's private peddling of a Moscow hotel project ended earlier in the election cycle than it actually did.

Once McGahn's sworn statements emerged, Trump had his team look to discredit the longtime loyalist.

Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani took a public dig at McGahn as "hopelessly confused" and "wrong." McGahn's attorney, William A. Burck, replied: “The report speaks for itself, and no amount of obfuscation by Mr. Giuliani is going to fool anyone. Don told the truth to Mueller.”

Even former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus told Mueller's office that McGahn was ready to quit the job earlier than he did because Trump was asking him to “do crazy [expletive].”  Priebus said he and then-White House senior adviser Steve Bannon talked McGahn out of it.

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