Darn that pattern of impeachable conduct.

Alexander Vindman said he tried to fix the wording in the rough transcript so that it matched his notes of the phone call, but discovered that he wasn’t successful, according to the report. He said he didn’t assume there were sinister reasons for this, and that he maintained he didn’t know why his attempt fell through.

The issue with the phrasing is whether the wording was done to buttress Trump insistence he wasn’t demanding a quid pro quo of Ukraine.


Volume 2.11

Incident Eight: Ordering White House Counsel McGahn to Deny that the President Tried to Fire the Special Counsel
(pp. 113-120)

By Joyce Vance

In June 2017, President Donald Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. In January 2018, after the New York Times reported on Trump’s orders to McGahn, Trump unsuccessfully tried to get McGahn to deny it had happened.

Trump made four attempts to get McGahn to deny Trump had ordered him to have Mueller fired. The first was a call from Trump’s personal counsel to McGahn’s attorney, asking for a statement denying the order to fire Mueller and denying McGahn had threatened to quit, which the Times had also reported. McGahn’s attorney responded that his client would not make such a statement because the story was accurate in its reporting that Trump wanted Mueller fired.

Next, Trump asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to contact McGahn. McGahn told her there was no need to respond to the story and that some of it was accurate.

A few days later, Trump told White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter that the New York Times story was “bullshit” and denied trying to terminate Mueller. He directed Porter “to tell McGahn to create a record to make clear that the President never directed McGahn to fire the Special Counsel,” according to Porter’s testimony. Trump wanted McGahn to write a letter “for our records” that would say the New York Times report was inaccurate and told Porter he might “have to get rid of” McGahn if he wouldn’t do it. Porter told McGahn he needed to write a letter denying he was ordered to terminate Mueller and McGahn declined, saying the reports were true. McGahn told Porter he had planned to quit rather than carry out Trump’s order, although he had not told Trump this. McGahn dismissed Trump’s threat to fire him, telling Porter the optics would be bad, and declining to put anything in writing. Porter told White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about his conversation with McGahn.

The next Day, Kelly set up a meeting for McGahn to discuss the Times article with Trump in the Oval Office. The President’s personal counsel called McGahn’s attorney ahead of the meeting and said McGahn “could not resign no matter what happened in the meeting.”

Trump told McGahn the story didn’t look good and needed to be corrected. He denied telling McGahn to “fire” Mueller. McGahn told Trump that the story was correct, except insofar as it said he had told Trump he would quit if ordered to fire Mueller. McGahn told Trump he remembered being told to “Call Rod [Rosenstein], tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can’t be the Special Counsel.” Trump denied saying it. McGahn told Trump he would not issue a correction. Trump also asked McGahn why he told the Office about the incident and why he took notes of their meetings. McGahn told Trump he had to tell the truth because there was no attorney-client privilege between them and he took notes because he was a “real lawyer.” Trump objected and said that he had had a lot of great lawyers “like Roy Cohn” and that they did not take notes.

Prosecutors must prove three elements to establish obstruction of justice: an obstructive act, a nexus to an official proceeding and intent.

1. Obstructive act: Trump’s four attempts to get McGahn to refute the Times story are obstructive acts if they tend to deter McGahn from testifying truthfully or undermine his credibility as a witness if he subsequently were called as a witness and testified to what he remembered, rather than to a record he created at Trump’s direction. The Office concluded there was substantial evidence that supported McGahn’s account that Trump directed him to have Mueller removed. Trump focused on the fact that he had not actually used the word “fire” to get McGahn to change his story, but by the time they met, Trump was aware McGahn did not believe the Times story was false. Trump persisted in trying to get McGahn to “repudiate facts that McGahn had repeatedly said were accurate.”

2. Nexus to an official proceeding: To establish nexus, prosecutors must show Trump’s actions would tend to affect an official proceeding or interfered with the communication of information to investigators. By January of 2018, when these events took place, Trump was aware the Office was using a grand jury. It was foreseeable McGahn might be called upon again to testify in the ongoing investigation and/or in court proceedings that might result from it.

3. Intent: Trump acted with the intent to influence McGahn’s account of events so as to discourage further scrutiny of Trump. Trump continued to pressure McGahn after it was clear McGahn believed his own memory of events. Trump even suggested he would fire McGahn if he didn’t refute the story. Trump’s conduct and statements showed his understanding and displeasure that his effort to fire Mueller would be part of an obstruction of justice investigation.

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