At President Donald Trump's request, White House officials reportedly asked Don McGahn—the president's former counsel and a key witness in the Mueller report—to say publicly that Trump never obstructed justice.
According to the New York Times, which cited two anonymous individuals briefed on the request, the White House asked McGahn to make a public statement on obstruction "at least twice in the past month"—once before the Mueller report was released to the public and once after.
"Mr. Trump asked White House officials to make the request to Mr. McGahn," the Times reported on Friday. "Mr. McGahn declined. His reluctance angered the president, who believed that Mr. McGahn showed disloyalty by telling investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, about Mr. Trump's attempts to maintain control over the Russia investigation."
The Times report continued:
The president's lawyers are particularly concerned about two episodes that Mr. McGahn detailed to prosecutors. In one, Mr. Trump asked him to fire the special counsel but backed off after Mr. McGahn refused. After that episode was revealed, the president asked Mr. McGahn to create a White House document falsely rebutting his account. Mr. McGahn declined to go along but told Mr. Mueller about the encounters.
The Wall Street Journal also reported late Friday that McGahn "rebuffed" a request from White House officials to issue a statement declaring that Trump did not obstruct justice.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), suggested on Twitter that the White House's reported requests to McGahn may amount to obstruction of justice in themselves:
And the President’s obstruction continues... https://t.co/ogShEl87s3
— Noah Bookbinder (@NoahBookbinder) May 10, 2019
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The Times report comes as McGahn is facing a subpoena from Democrats to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the special counsel's findings.
The Trump White House has instructed McGahn to refuse to comply with Democrats' subpoena, and House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) has threatened to hold McGahn in contempt.
"This is why it is critical for Mr. McGahn to come before our committee and answer questions for the American people," Nadler tweeted following the Times report. "The president cannot keep McGahn from testifying."
The Mueller report details numerous instances in which Trump potentially committed obstruction of justice, though Mueller did not reach a conclusion on the question.
Following the release of Mueller's findings, Attorney General William Barr—who has been accused of acting as the president's personal lawyer as he refuses to comply with congressional oversight—decided not to charge Trump with obstruction of justice.
"The White House knows Trump hasn't been 'totally exonerated,'" progressive advocacy group Stand Up America wrote in a series of tweets in response to the Times report. "They asked McGahn to lie because they know there's overwhelming evidence of obstruction. "
"The evidence is so strong that if Trump were not president," the group added, "he'd be heading to prison."