It has been, by all accounts, a nightmarish week for the president, and the lawyers surrounding President Donald Trump have done little to make things better in the wake of Paul Manafort’s conviction.
The president—who once bemoaned “Where’s my Roy Cohn”—prizes loyalty in his lawyers. But this week, it was the attorneys in Trump’s orbit who ultimately caused the most trouble for him, and deepened his legal and political woes.
Here’s a look back at what happened:
➤ The first development to stun the Trump world was the revelation, reported by The New York Times, that White House counsel Donald McGahn has spoken extensively with the special counsel about whether Trump obstructed justice while in office. It’s said that McGahn participated in “at least three voluntary interviews,” about 30 hours’ worth over the span of nine months.
“So this is a very big deal,” Carrie Cordero, former counsel to the assistant attorney general of the National Security Division, tweeted. Former President Barack Obama-era White House counsel Bob Bauer put it like this over at The Washington Post: “It is hard to imagine that they took much comfort in learning of the extent of [Robert] Mueller’s interest in what the White House counsel had to say.”
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McGahn has witnessed, of course, the behind-the-scenes of several episodes that might be of interest to Mueller, including Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey, and the near-dismissals of the special counsel.
“I have long believed that Mueller will conclude that Trump obstructed justice, but I did so based on press reports. Mueller can’t rely on news reports—he needs eyewitnesses. It wasn’t a guarantee that he would have a strong eyewitness to Trump’s obstructive acts. Now he does,” Renato Mariotti, a Thompson Coburn partner and former federal prosecutor, tweeted.
➤ The biggest development of the week, and by far the largest legal headache for the president: Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney and fixer, pleaded guilty to a number of felonies, and told a Manhattan federal judge under oath that a candidate—Trump’s name wasn’t mentioned in court—directed him to facilitate hush payments to two women (Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal) with whom Trump has allegedly had affairs. This was done for the “principal purpose of influencing the election,” Cohen said.
➤ U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has often found himself at the receiving end of the president’s many barbs and broadsides. On Thursday, he punched back. It came after Trump attacked Sessions in a Fox News interview, saying Sessions “never took control” of the Justice Department. And that’s when the country’s top law enforcement officer responded: “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” Sessions said in a statement.
The Trump-Sessions contretemps of course followed some pretty severe legal blows that prosecutors landed against two of the president’s former top dogs. But the dustup also came at a remarkable moment Tuesday morning when senators began signalling that Sessions could be nearing the end of his time at the DOJ. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham both hinted to reporters that Trump might move to replace his attorney general after the 2018 midterm elections. Whoever replaces Sessions, who is recused from Mueller’s probe into Russia interference in the presidential election, could ultimately affect that work.
“Jeff, this is GREAT, what everyone wants,” Trump tweeted in a response Friday morning, “so look into all of the corruption on the ‘other side’ including deleted Emails, Comey lies & leaks, Mueller conflicts, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr……”
He continued, “Come on Jeff, you can do it, the country is waiting!”
➤ The president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani trotted out the line, “Truth isn’t truth” in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday. That phrase came in an exchange with host Chuck Todd over whether Trump should sit for an interview with Mueller. When Giuliani insisted that such an interview would be a perjury trap, Todd replied that truth was truth. That prompted Giuliani’s phrase: “No, it isn’t truth. Truth isn’t truth.” The line, while not immediately damaging for the president, was an unforced error that quickly lit up social media.