Top Dem Swalwell: Exiting White House counsel McGahn coached aides on testimony

August 31, 2018
In The News

White House counsel Don McGahn, whose imminent departure was announced by President Trump this week, will likely be called to testify before Congress about his efforts to constrain testimony in the Russia investigation if Democrats capture control of the House in this fall’s elections, says a top House Democrat.

“I do believe Mr. McGahn is a relevant witness in all of this,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.” “Don McGahn was instructing different witnesses as to what they could say and could not say.”

Swalwell’s interest in McGahn is especially relevant in light of the role the 37-year-old, three-term California congressman has carved out for himself as a leading Democratic point man on the Russia probe, along with House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff. He confirmed in the interview that he now may seek to use his prominence in the Russia probe, as reflected in frequent cable news appearances, as the launching pad for a run for president.

“I am considering it,” Swalwell said, when asked about whether he is planning to run for president. Pressed on how he would distinguish himself from the many other Democrats believed to be planning a presidential run, Swalwell pointed to his work standing up to House Republican efforts to bury the Russia investigation.

“I think people have seen that when our democracy was on the line I knew where to stand,” he said.

A prime example of what Swalwell believes may amount to a White House orchestrated “cover-up” was the refusal of former Trump campaign manager and White House aide Steve Bannon to answer key questions before the House Intelligence Committee, a position the congressman said reflected the advice of McGahn.

McGahn “had this unique circumstance where Steve Bannon was asserting a privilege even on information after he left the White House, saying he could not discuss it because of a presidential privilege that was directed to him by Don McGahn,” Swalwell said. “So I do think Don McGahn’s role in this, and whether he sought to have Bannon and others cover-up information, is something that we should probe.”

Whether or not Swalwell runs for president, his comments are the latest sign that, if Democrats take control of the House, they are planning to bombard the Trump administration with subpoenas and investigative hearings. Even if they do not immediately move to impeach the president — a step that Swalwell and other top Democrats studiously avoid discussing — the prospect that the White House will be besieged by a Democratic House of Representatives has reportedly alarmed the president’s allies, who fear he is ill-prepared for the onslaught.

Swalwell gave some further clues to what Democrats may have in store for the president during the “Skullduggery” interview. He was asked about his prominent role in “Active Measures,” a new documentary that alleges a longstanding and compromising money trail linking powerful interests in Russia, including top organized crime figures, to the Trump organization.

Swalwell said the film gave him “goosebumps” every time he’s seen it in advance previews. And, he added, he “absolutely” believes the issues it raises about Trump’s sketchy finances need to be investigated.

“I believe the film kind of gives a nice road map of the case that you would want to pursue,” he said. Under GOP control, Democrats “did not have the luxury of subpoenas to dig deeper into a lot of the ties that on the surface are alarming. But a Democratic majority would have subpoena power and would be able to look at the financial lending that was afforded to Donald Trump [from Deutsche Bank], the different deals that he struck, the home that he sold [to a Russian oligarch] in Palm Beach way above market rate at a time when the financial markets were in a free fall. So, you know, all of that, looks like smoke and is quite concerning and we would be able to probe much further.”

Swalwell put some limits on how far the Democrats would go. “Members of the House Intelligence Committee, I know, are not interested in just conducting a redundant investigation. If we believe that Bob Mueller and his team and the Senate investigation have been able to tell the American people what happened, we don’t want to go back in time just to be able to do it. We only want to investigate these contacts if there are still unanswered questions. … We’re not going to conduct investigations that are just picking scabs.”