WASHINGTON (AP) - White House counsel Don McGahn, who has maintained a front row seat in Trump administration controversies and accomplishments, will be leaving in the fall after the expected Senate confirmation vote for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday.
The departure of Trump’s top lawyer in the West Wing will create a vacancy in an office that has been closely involved in the conflict over special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
McGahn’s exit also continues the churn of staffers as the administration sets records for turnover and the White House struggles to fill key vacancies.
Unlike some less-amiable administration separations, Trump praised McGahn on Twitter, saying that he had “worked with Don for a long time and truly appreciate his service!” McGahn’s departure had been expected as the White House enters the fall elections and looks to win confirmation for Kavanaugh, the president’s second opportunity to place his imprint on the Supreme Court.
But McGahn’s time has also been marked by tumult as he has been the main point of contact inside the White House for the Russia investigation led by Mueller. McGahn, who has met with investigators on at least three occasions for many hours at a time, threatened to resign last year if Trump continued to press for Mueller’s removal.
McGahn, a top election lawyer who served as general counsel on Trump’s campaign, has played a pivotal role in the president’s remaking of the federal judiciary with young, conservative judges. He also helped guide Trump’s selection of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and the president’s nomination of Kavanaugh and helped oversee a dramatic rollback of Obama era regulations.
The White House counsel is among the most critical - and yet least visible - positions within the West Wing, with input on a range of issues from policy to personnel to national security.
Trump’s announcement came more than a week after a New York Times report that McGahn had been cooperating extensively with Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with Trump’s Republican campaign.
Trump insisted at the time that his general counsel wasn’t a “RAT” and accused Mueller’s team of “looking for trouble.” He contrasted McGahn with John Dean, the White House counsel for President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.
Dean ultimately cooperated with prosecutors and helped bring down the Nixon presidency in 1974, though he served a prison term for obstruction of justice.