The White House blocked former McGahn aide Annie Donaldson from answering Congress' questions more than 200 times
- White House lawyers blocked Annie Donaldson, a former aide to ex-White House Counsel Don McGahn, from answering Congress' questions about the Russia investigation more than 200 times.
- According to a transcript of written answers Donaldson provided to the House Judiciary Committee, the White House's objections stemmed from "constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated."
- Donaldson was stopped from answering questions on a multitude of topics that were central to the former special counsel Robert Mueller's obstruction-of-justice investigation into President Donald Trump.
- She was also blocked from discussing her own notes that were cited in the Mueller report, though she did confirm their authenticity and said they were accurately quoted.
- Donaldson was a key figure in Mueller's obstruction probe, and her name was mentioned in Mueller's final report more than 60 times. Her notes, in particular, paint a damaging portrait of a White House under siege and a president who tried multiple times to thwart the special counsel's sprawling inquiry.
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Lawyers representing the White House blocked Annie Donaldson, a former top aide to ex-White House counsel Don McGahn, from answering lawmakers' questions about the Russia investigation over 200 times.
According to a transcript of written answers that Donaldson provided to the House Judiciary Committee about the former special counsel Robert Mueller's obstruction-of-justice investigation into President Donald Trump, White House lawyers stopped Donaldson from answering questions 212 times.When explaining why she couldn't answer certain questions, Donaldson replied, "The White House has directed that I not respond to this question because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated."
It is unclear what the White House was referring to by "constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests." But the move appears to be part of an ongoing effort by the executive branch to stonewall any congressional oversight of Trump or the White House, particularly as it relates to Mueller's investigation and the president's finances.
Donaldson was ultimately blocked from answering questions about a multitude of topics that are central to the House committee's obstruction investigation, including:
- Trump's efforts to get McGahn to stop then-attorney general Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from overseeing the Russia probe.
- Trump's concerns that Sessions' recusal would leave him unprotected "from an investigation that could hobble the presidency."
- Concerns within the White House counsel's office that Trump was obstructing justice.
- McGahn's warnings to Trump to refrain from contacting then FBI director James Comey about the Russia investigation.
- Trump's calls to McGahn in June 2017 directing him to have Mueller removed.
- McGahn's and Donaldson's decisions to resign after Trump directed McGahn to oust Mueller.
White House lawyers also blocked Donaldson from answering questions from lawmakers about her own notes cited in the Mueller report.
In one such instance, Donaldson was asked to elaborate a March 2, 2017 entry she made which said, "No contact w/Sessions" and "No comms/Serious concerns about obstruction."Donaldson confirmed the accuracy of Mueller's citation of her notes, but refused to answer any questions beyond that about White House staffers' concerns about Trump obstructing justice.
Donaldson was a key figure in Mueller's obstruction probe, and her name was mentioned in Mueller's final report more than 60 times. Her notes, in particular, paint a damaging portrait of a White House under siege and a president who tried multiple times to thwart the special counsel's sprawling inquiry.
Shortly after former FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the FBI was indeed looking into whether the Trump campaign could have colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 election, Donaldson wrote down descriptions of how angry Trump had become at the news.
"POTUS in panic/chaos," she wrote, using the shorthand for President of the United States. "Need binders to put in front of POTUS. All things related to Russia."
Donaldson also described the rampant fear that Trump could be charged with obstruction of justice - something Mueller left open ended in his report and Attorney General William Barr decided against pursuing.
"Is this the beginning of the end?" Donaldson wrote after the abrupt firing of then-FBI Director James Comey.
Donaldson also detailed colorful quotes from McGahn and jotted notes such as one from the March of 2017 which said, "Just in the middle of another Russia Fiasco."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said in a statement Monday that the White House's reason for blocking Donaldson is "another trick being used to interfere with the Committee's investigation."Though the White House avoided invoking executive privilege, Nadler continued, it "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."
The transcript of Donaldson's written answers comes days before Mueller is set to testify before the House Judiciary Committee in a public setting. The former special counsel is not expected to provide information beyond what is contained in his report, but Democratic lawmakers say they hope his testimony will inform the American public of his findings and help them lay the groundwork for impeaching the president.
Mueller declined to make a "traditional prosecutorial judgment" on whether Trump obstructed justice, citing a 1973 Office of Legal Counsel decision that said a sitting president cannot be indicted. Prosecutors emphasized, however, that if they had confidence that Trump did not commit a crime, they would have said so.
The report went on to lay out an extensive roadmap of evidence against Trump and indicated that it was up to Congress to investigate further.