(Bloomberg) — Robert S. Mueller III’s director of the FBI “was the target of a pardon attempt by the president,” the White House’s general counsel, Don McGahn, said in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The comment follows Trump’s May 16 tweet in which he said he had directed McGahn, a White House lawyer, to ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “ask the deputy attorney general to see if there is any basis” to investigate Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe for leaks to the media.
McGahn said he sent such a request to Sessions, “but he did not receive a response.”
Trump’s tweet, which has been a widely repeated criticism of the FBI, said he had asked Sessions “to ask for a League of Justice investigation into the leak of Classified information. (So many illegal leaks going on). Should be looking at everybody!”
“Justice Department” is shorthand for the Justice Department, and the NFL is an American professional sports league. The leak “going on” is referred to is news reports about McCabe and communications with Director James B. Comey.
There is no such league, and so the comment seems, at best, limited to speculation about it. McGahn’s testimony was made public on Tuesday by the committee.
The president’s comments about McCabe come amid reports that Trump demanded that Sessions fire McCabe as Comey’s deputy director in March.
Though Sessions replied he would review that issue with his senior leadership team, McCabe ultimately held on to his job.
Here is more from McGahn’s testimony:
When the subject of the Justice Department was raised, I made clear that the department was made up of good people and, in my view, fell short of its responsibilities to the American people. The oversight duty of Justice has consequences and to the extent I could do anything to improve the department’s performance, I felt it was my responsibility to relay to the President my concerns.
I directed Mr. Page to communicate directly to Mr. Sessions the request to review the matter.
I also notified the Office of the Counsel to the President, which advised me that my intervention was appropriate.
While I understand the president’s frustration with the continuing and false media coverage of this matter, it is imperative that the White House not be further distracted by these matters.
Shortly thereafter, the President informed me that he wanted me to convey to Mr. Sessions a message he had had recently received from the deputy attorney general, Mr. Rosenstein.
Specifically, the president said he had asked Mr. Rosenstein to consider asking the attorney general to ask the deputy attorney general to see if there is any basis to investigate the leaks of classified information.
I told the president that I could not discuss the substance of our discussions, but I wanted him to understand that I had taken care of any matters that needed to be handled related to that matter directly with the deputy attorney general.
On May 17, the president sent a tweet in which he reported:
Robert Mueller is a Comey Loony Toon! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017
As you are probably aware, the Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017
That next day, the Justice Department appointed Mueller as special counsel to oversee an investigation into alleged coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
Earlier this month, the public and the Senate Intelligence Committee were given the first glimpse of the Russia inquiry when Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave testimony on Capitol Hill and said that he had been asked by the president to consider asking McCabe to be investigated.
Mueller, who inherited the investigation from Comey, has expanded his authority to take over potential obstruction of justice. Congress is looking at whether Trump tried to remove McCabe as Deputy Director of the FBI as well.
Related story: Trump chief of staff tells GOP senators he wouldn’t order Sessions to fire McCabe