Today, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) released the written responses submitted by Annie Donaldson, who served as Chief of Staff to former White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn, after the Committee sent written questions to her as part of the ongoing investigation into President Trump’s obstruction of justice and other abuses of power.
The full transcript of Ms. Donaldson’s answers are available here. Key takeaways include the following:
Lawyers for the Trump Administration blocked Ms. Donaldson from answering questions 212 times.
As with the transcribed interview of Hope Hicks, White House lawyers refused to allow Ms. Donaldson to answer any questions about the presidential misconduct detailed in the Mueller Report other than to confirm the accuracy of statements attributed to her by the Special Counsel. In total, Ms. Donaldson was blocked from answering questions over 200 times, including on the following topics:
President Trump’s efforts to have McGahn prevent former Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia Investigation. (Questions 13 and 17).
President Trump’s concerns that a recusal by Sessions would “leave the President unprotected from an investigation that could hobble the presidency.” (Question 14).
Serious concerns within the White House Counsel’s Office about President Trump obstructing justice. (Question 20).
McGahn’s warning to President Trump that he should refrain from contacting then-FBI Director James Comey about the FBI’s investigation into Russia. (Question 44).
President Trump’s June 17, 2017 calls to McGahn directing him to have Special Counsel Mueller removed. (Question 66).
McGahn’s and Donaldson’s decision to resign after President Trump directed McGahn to fire the Special Counsel. (Questions 67 and 71).
The President’s lawyers blocked Ms. Donaldson from explaining her own handwritten notes that were in the Mueller Report.
Notes that the Committee asked Ms. Donaldson to explain included the following entries:
“No contact w/Sessions” and “No comms/Serious concerns about obstruction,” relating to Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. (Question 20).
“POTUS in panic/chaos. . . . Need binders to put in front of POTUS. (1) All things related to Russia,” relating to President Trump’s reactions to the Russia investigation. (Question 29).
“getting hotter and hotter, get rid,” relating to President Trump’s reaction to Comey’s failure to publicly state that the FBI was not investigating President Trump’s personal conduct in March 2017. (Question 40).
“[i]s this the beginning of the end?” relating to Donaldson’s fears that President Trump’s decision to fire Comey would be the end of the presidency. (Question 52).
“biggest exposure,” “other contacts” “calls” and “ask re: Flynn,” relating to warnings from McGahn about actions taken by President Trump that could expose him to potential obstruction of justice charges. (Question 64).
Ms. Donaldson did confirm the accuracy of key episodes described in the Mueller Report.
Ms. Donaldson confirmed that the Mueller Report accurately described several key episodes in which the President sought to impede or undermine the investigations into Russian interference and his own conduct, including:
The White House Counsel’s Office directed that Sessions should not be contacted by anyone in the White House about his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. (Question 19).
On March 21, 2017, President Trump asked McGahn to intervene with the Department of Justice and according to Donaldson’s notes, was “getting hotter and hotter, get rid.” (Question 40).
The White House Counsel’s Office thought the President’s original letter terminating Comey as FBI director should “[n]ot [see the] light of day” and that it would be better to offer “[n]o other rationales” for the firing than what was in Rosenstein’s and Sessions’ memoranda. (Question 51).
Ms. Donaldson was worried that the decision to terminate Comey and the manner in which it was carried out would be the end of the presidency. (Question 52).
Both Rosenstein and Sessions spoke to McGahn and expressed concern that the White House was creating a narrative that Rosenstein had initiated the decision to fire Comey, and the White House Counsel’s Office agreed that it was factually wrong to say that the Department of Justice had initiated Comey’s termination. (Questions 57 and 58).
McGahn warned President Trump that discussing Mueller’s so-called “conflicts of interest” would look like the President was trying to meddle in the investigation and that “knocking out Mueller” would be another fact used to claim obstruction of justice. (Question 63).
McGahn identified several actions that exposed President Trump to obstruction of justice charges, including, “other contacts,” “calls,” and his “ask re: Flynn.” (Question 64).
President Trump demanded that McGahn contact the Department of Justice and repeatedly ordered McGahn to take actions related to the Russia investigation that McGahn did not want to do. (Questions 68-70).
Both McGahn and Donaldson prepared to resign following President Trump’s demands that McGahn fire Mueller. (Question 71).
White House lawyers did not repeat claims of “absolute immunity” for Ms. Donaldson, but instead invoked an equally dubious claim to continue its stonewalling.
President Trump’s lawyers made more than 200 objections by invoking a sham principle - "the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated." This is another trick being used to interfere with the Committee’s investigation.
The Trump Administration avoided actually invoking “executive privilege,” because it recognizes that executive privilege has been waived as to any information that was publicly released in the Mueller Report, which is why they are using this made up concept.
In fact, the White House recognized that executive privilege has been waived and it could not object to Donaldson confirming the accuracy of what she had told Mueller and was contained in his report.
The President’s lawyers still improperly limited Donaldson’s answers to the exact words used in the report by invoking a nebulous and unrecognized concept that has not been recognized by any court as an actual privilege that can be claimed.
A full copy of Ann Donaldson’s written questions and answers can be found here.