Don McGahn

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Don McGahn
Don McGahn official photo.png
White House Counsel
In office
January 20, 2017 – October 17, 2018
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byNeil Eggleston
Succeeded byEmmet Flood
Chair of the Federal Election Commission
In office
July 10, 2008 – December 31, 2008
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byDavid Mason
Succeeded bySteven T. Walther
Member of the Federal Election Commission
In office
July 9, 2008 – September 12, 2013
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Barack Obama
Preceded byDavid Mason
Succeeded byLee E. Goodman
Personal details
Donald Francis McGahn II

(1968-06-16) June 16, 1968 (age 54)
Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseShannon McGahn
EducationUniversity of Notre Dame (BA)
Widener University (JD)
Georgetown University (LLM)

Donald Francis McGahn II (/dɒn məˈɡæn/; born June 16, 1968) is an American lawyer who served as White House Counsel for U.S. President Donald Trump, from the day of Trump's inauguration through October 17, 2018, when McGahn resigned. Previously, McGahn served on the Federal Election Commission for over five years. In November 2019, McGahn received a court order to testify before the U.S House of Representatives. In August 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 7–2 that the House can sue him to comply.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Don McGahn was born on June 16, 1968 and grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the son of Noreen (née Rogan) and Donald F. McGahn.[2][3][4] He is a nephew of Joseph McGahn, former Democratic New Jersey State Senator and medical director at Donald Trump's Resorts International,[5] and Atlantic City attorney Patrick McGahn, who had represented Trump's casino interests from 1982 until Trump sued him for alleged overbilling in 1995.[6][7][8][9][10]

Don McGahn attended Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Atlantic City and Holy Spirit High School in nearby Absecon.[11] He briefly attended the United States Naval Academy before transferring to the University of Notre Dame.[12] At the University of Notre Dame he received a B.A. degree in history and computer applications.[13] He obtained his J.D. degree from Widener University Commonwealth Law School in 1994. In 2002, later in his career, he earned an LL.M. degree from the Georgetown University Law Center.[14]


After graduation from law school, McGahn worked in campaign finance law at the Washington, D.C. office of law firm Patton Boggs.[15] From 1999 to 2008, McGahn was chief counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).[16]

George W. Bush nominated McGahn as a Republican-selected member of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in 2008. He was confirmed on June 24, 2008 by the United States Senate and was sworn in shortly thereafter. He is credited as having played a crucial role in loosening regulations on campaign spending.[17][18] According to documentary footage in the 2018 film Dark Money, McGahn's brief period as incoming chair of the Commission ushered in a newly partisan rigor to the FEC whereby he and his two fellow Republican members, also new, formed an unprecedented lockstep voting bloc preventing any and all enforcement of FEC regulations. McGahn resigned from the FEC in September 2013.[19]

After leaving the FEC, McGahn returned to the law firm Patton Boggs.[16] In 2014 he moved to the law firm of Jones Day in Washington, D.C.[17] He also worked for the Koch affiliated Freedom Partners.[20] McGahn brought five Jones Day lawyers with him to the White House, and six more were appointed to senior posts in the Trump Administration.[21]

Donald Trump 2016 Presidential campaign[edit]

McGahn served as Donald Trump's campaign counsel during his 2016 campaign for president.[16] McGahn managed all litigation involving Donald Trump's 2016 Presidential campaign. Early in 2016, he stopped efforts to keep Trump off of the Republican primary ballot in New Hampshire by going to court and winning to ensure ballot access in a key primary state.[22] Several weeks before the election, lawsuits were filed in four battleground states alleging voter intimidation and seeking to enjoin the Trump campaign from having observers at polling locations.[23] McGahn successfully managed and won these litigations.[24]

Trump presidency[edit]

Shortly after Trump was elected, he named McGahn General Counsel of the Presidential Transition Team. On November 25, 2016, McGahn was named White House Counsel for the President-elect's new administration.[25][26]

Since Jones Day has also represented the Trump campaign in its dealings with Robert Mueller, McGahn secured an ethics waiver that allows him to talk to his old firm when its clients have business before the U.S. government.[21]

Don McGahn at the Marine Barracks Washington Sunset Parade on June 6, 2017

McGahn personally recommended Trump nominate Neil Gorsuch to replace Antonin Scalia and Brett Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch's first official interview with Trump staff was on January 5, 2017 when McGahn met with him in Trump Tower. Trump and McGahn met with him on January 14, 2017. McGahn called Gorsuch on January 27, 2017 to tell him that he had been selected as the nominee.[27] Gorsuch was sworn in on Monday April 10, 2017.[28] McGahn also recommended the nomination of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. Acosta was sworn in on April 28, 2017.[29]

McGahn assembled a team of lawyers to oversee filling all judicial vacancies. Guided by McGahn's team, President Trump had already appointed ten appellate judges by November 11, 2017, the most that early in a presidency since Richard Nixon.[30]

According to The New York Times, McGahn conveyed instructions from President Trump to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, requesting Sessions not to recuse himself from overseeing investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.[31] McGahn was unaware that Sessions had already consulted with career attorneys at the Department of Justice. When Sessions informed him he had already decided to recuse himself, McGahn ceased further discussion of the topic.[32] In response to this, Walter Shaub, former director of the United States Office of Government Ethics, said McGahn had "done much to undermine anticorruption mechanisms in this country." Shaub said, "It is a crime for a federal employee to participate in a particular matter in which he has a financial interest."[33]

In January 2018 The New York Times reported that in June 2017, the president asked McGahn to instruct top Justice Department officials to dismiss special counsel Robert Mueller, and that McGahn refused, instead threatening to resign.[34][35][36][37][38]

The New York Times reported on August 18, 2018 that McGahn had been cooperating extensively with the Special Counsel investigation for several months and that he and his lawyer had become concerned that Trump "had decided to let Mr. McGahn take the fall for decisions that could be construed as obstruction of justice, like the Comey firing, by telling the special counsel that he was only following shoddy legal advice from Mr. McGahn."[39]

On August 29, 2018, President Trump announced "McGahn will be leaving his position in the fall, shortly after the confirmation (hopefully) of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. I have worked with Don for a long time and truly appreciate his service!"[40][41] McGahn formally departed the Trump administration on October 17, 2018.[42]

In November 2018 it was reported that in spring 2018, Trump told McGahn that he wanted the Justice Department to prosecute Hillary Clinton and James Comey. McGahn told Trump that he had no authority to order a prosecution and that while he could request an investigation, that too could prompt accusations of abuse of power. McGahn had White House lawyers write a memo to Trump warning that if he asked law enforcement to investigate his rivals, he could face possible impeachment.[43]

Don McGahn returned to Jones Day in March 2019 as the head of the firm's Government Regulation Practice.[44]

According to Mueller's final report, McGahn complained to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus that Trump was trying to get him to "do crazy shit." The president responded that McGahn was a "lying bastard."[45][46]

On May 7, 2019, the White House instructed McGahn not to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Judiciary Committee, instructing the Committee to redirect its records requests related to Mueller's investigation to the White House; McGahn is the most cited witness in the Mueller Report. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referenced the action as an obstruction of justice, stating during an event at Cornell University, "Trump is goading us to impeach him[.]"[47][48][49] A week later, it was reported that Trump's lawyers believed that McGahn told Mueller he did not believe Trump obstructed the investigation and ordered him not to provide any documents he had to the Judiciary Committee.[50] On May 21, 2019, McGahn defied a subpoena to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, at the direction of his former client.[51] On August 7, the House filed a lawsuit with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in an effort to challenge this precedent-setting move.[52]

Congressional subpoena[edit]

On November 25, 2019, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled that McGahn, who the Trump administration ordered not to cooperate with the investigation, must cooperate with the investigation and comply with a House of Representatives subpoena to testify.[53][54] The Justice Department requested a stay pending an appeal of the ruling, but on December 2, Jackson rejected the request, calling the DOJ's assertion that the House Judiciary Committee would not be harmed by a stay "disingenuous." Jackson wrote, "DOJ's argument here that any further delay will not be harmful to the Judiciary Committee because, in essence, DOJ has already harmed the Committee's interests by successfully delaying its access to other materials strikes this Court as an unacceptable mischaracterization of the injury at issue."[55]

On February 28, 2020, a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed that judgment and ordered the House's lawsuit dismissed.[56] Circuit Judge Thomas B. Griffith, joined by Circuit Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, determined that the separation of powers under the United States Constitution does not allow Congress to use the Courts to force Executive officials to testify.[57] Judge Henderson wrote a concurrence in which she argued the House simply did not have standing to sue in this instance.[57] Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote a dissent.[57]

On appeal from the House, on March 13, 2020, the full Court agreed to reconsider the case.[58] On August 7, the full Court ruled that the House of Representatives could sue to enforce the subpoena,[59][60] but then, on August 31, the court ruled that the House had never been legally empowered by Congress to sue to enforce subpoenas.[61][62]

Personal life[edit]

McGahn is married to Shannon McGahn, a lobbyist[63] and former Counselor to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.[64][65] They have two sons.[16] He is a Roman Catholic.[66] McGahn has played guitar for more than 20 years and studied at Berklee College of Music. He plays lead guitar for an act called Scott's New Band.[67]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Appeals court rules House has authority to enforce McGahn subpoena". Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  2. ^ "Jean Quinn Rogan Obituary", Citizens' Voice via, May 19, 2014.
  3. ^ Robbins, Rohn (February 6, 2018). "Vail Law: What's the job of the attorney who's the White House Counsel? (column)". Vail Daily. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  4. ^ Mirza, Anzish (March 6, 2017). "10 Things You Didn't Know About Don McGahn". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  5. ^ Sullivan, Joseph S. (December 28, 1991). "Joseph McGahn, 82, Pioneer Of Casinos in Atlantic City". The New York Times. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  6. ^ Barrett 2016, p. 226.
  7. ^ Tiefer, Charles (November 25, 2016). "McGahn Is Troubling Pick For White House Counsel Given Trump's Conflict-Of-Interest Issues". Forbes. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  8. ^ Teris, Ben (April 11, 2016). "Trump's own Beltway establishment guy: The curious journey of Don McGahn". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  9. ^ Daly, Michael (November 29, 2016). "The Decorated Marine Who Called Trump a 'Draft-Dodging Bastard' to His Face". The Daily Beast. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  10. ^ Gerstein, Josh; Cook, Nancy (November 22, 2016). "Trump's White House counsel faces unusual challenges". Politico. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  11. ^ DeRosier, John. "Atlantic City native embroiled in Trump/Flynn controversy ", The Press of Atlantic City, May 17, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017. "McGahn, a longtime Republican campaign lawyer and former commissioner at the Federal Election Commission, grew up in Atlantic City, attending Our Lady Star of the Sea school and Holy Spirit High School, where he played football."
  12. ^ Schmidt, Michael S.; Haberman, Maggie (August 18, 2018). "White House Counsel, Don McGahn, Has Cooperated Extensively in Mueller Inquiry". The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
  13. ^ "Donald F. McGahn -". Retrieved August 20, 2018.
  14. ^ "Georgetown Law Alumni in the News March 2017". Archived from the original on February 9, 2018. Retrieved February 8, 2018.
  15. ^ Mullins, Brody; Jacoby, Mary (October 29, 2008). "FEC Chairman McGahn Marches to His Own Tune". Wall Street Journal.
  16. ^ a b c d Levine, Carrie (May 9, 2016). "Two very different Donalds, one White House goal". Center for Public Integrity.
  17. ^ a b Terris, Ben (April 11, 2016). "Trump's own Beltway establishment guy: The curious journey of Don McGahn". The Washington Post.
  18. ^ Roth, Zachary (March 23, 2016). "Trump's top lawyer helped open political spending floodgates". MSNBC.
  19. ^ Wilson, Reid (September 17, 2013). "Former FEC chairman Donald McGahn resigns from panel". The Washington Post.
  20. ^ "The Danger of President Pence". October 16, 2017.
  21. ^ a b Dexter Filkins (October 8, 2018). "Was There a Connection Between a Russian Bank and the Trump Campaign? A team of computer scientists sifted through records of unusual Web traffic in search of answers". Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  22. ^ Lichtblau, Eric (December 16, 2016). "In Donald McGahn, Donald Trump Gets a Combative White House Counsel". The New York Times.
  23. ^ Allegri, Carlo (October 21, 2016). "Trump Sued in 4 States for Voter Intimidation". Newsweek.
  24. ^ de Vogue, Ariane (August 7, 2016). "Supreme Court won't restore court order against Trump over poll-watching in Ohio". CNN.
  25. ^ Bender, Michael C.; Palazzolo, Joe (November 26, 2016). "Donald Trump Selects Donald McGahn as White House Counsel". Wall Street Journal.
  26. ^ Cook, Nancy (February 21, 2017). "He's Going to Be an Enabler". Politico.
  27. ^ Kim, Seung Min (February 26, 2017). "Gorsuch questionnaire reveals selection process details for SCOTUS nominee". Politico.
  28. ^ Barnes, Robert; Parker, Ashley (April 10, 2017). "Neil M. Gorsuch sworn in as 113th Supreme Court justice". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  29. ^ Cook, Nancy (May 6, 2017). "Trump's top lawyer faces a giant cleanup job". Politico.
  30. ^ Savage, Charlie (November 11, 2017). "Trump Is Rapidly Reshaping the Judiciary. Here's How". The New York Times.
  31. ^ Schmidt, Michael S. (January 4, 2018). "Obstruction Inquiry Shows Trump's Struggle to Keep Grip on Russia Investigation". The New York Times. Retrieved January 5, 2018. President Trump gave firm instructions in March to the White House's top lawyer: stop the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, from recusing himself in the Justice Department's investigation into whether Mr. Trump's associates had helped a Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 election [...] But the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, carried out the president's orders and lobbied Mr. Sessions to remain in charge of the inquiry, according to two people with knowledge of the episode.
  32. ^ Schmidt, Michael S. (January 4, 2018). "Obstruction Inquiry Shows Trump's Struggle to Keep Grip on Russia Investigation". The New York Times.
  33. ^ Diaz, Daniella (January 5, 2018). "Ex-ethics chief: White House counsel 'is a cancer'". CNN.
  34. ^ Schmidt, Michael S.; Haberman, Maggie (January 25, 2018). "Trump Ordered Mueller Fired, but Backed Off When White House Counsel Threatened to Quit". The New York Times.
  35. ^ Schmidt, Michael S.; Haberman, Maggie (March 7, 2018). "Trump Asked Key Witnesses About Matters They Discussed With Special Counsel". The New York Times.
  36. ^ "Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election" (PDF). U.S. Department of Justice. p. 216. Retrieved May 11, 2019.
  37. ^ Apuzzo, Matt; Goldman, Adam (April 18, 2019). "The Mueller Report Is 448 Pages Long. You Need to Know These 7 Key Things". The New York Times. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  38. ^ Schmidt, Michael S.; Haberman, Maggie (October 17, 2018). "McGahn, Soldier for Trump and Witness Against Him, Leaves White House". The New York Times. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  39. ^ Schmidt, Michael S.; Haberman, Maggie (August 18, 2018). "White House Counsel Has Cooperated Extensively With Mueller's Obstruction Inquiry". The New York Times. Retrieved August 18, 2018.
  40. ^ "Don McGahn: Trump says White House counsel to depart". BBC News. August 29, 2018. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
  41. ^ "Don McGahn to leave job as White House counsel, Trump says". CNN. Jeremy Diamond. August 29, 2018. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
  42. ^ Samuels, Brett (October 17, 2018). "McGahn departs as White House counsel". The Hill. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
  43. ^ Schmidt, Michael S.; Haberman, Maggie (November 20, 2018). "Trump Wanted to Order Justice Dept. to Prosecute Comey and Clinton". The New York Times.
  44. ^ Bario, David (March 3, 2019). "Ex-White House Counsel Donald McGahn to Rejoin Jones Day". National Law Journal. Retrieved July 10, 2019.
  45. ^ Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman. "A Portrait of the White House and Its Culture of Dishonesty" The New York Times April 18, 2019.
  46. ^ Trump: Witness to My Crime Can’t Testify, But Trust Me He’s Lying, New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait, June 14, 2019. Retrieved June 17, 2019.
  47. ^ Desiderio, A, et al "Don McGahn won't comply with House Democrats' subpoena", by ANDREW DESIDERIO and KYLE CHENEY, May 7, 2019. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  48. ^ Fandos, N., et al (NYT) "White House Signals Fight Over McGahn’s Records With Congress", by Nicholas Fandos, Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt, May 7, 2019. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  49. ^ "'Every Day He’s Obstructing Justice.' Pelosi Issues Impeachment Warning as White House Escalates Fight", by Shannon Pettypiece and Bloomberg via Fortune, May 7, 2019. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  50. ^ Schmidt, Michael S. (May 10, 2019). "White House Asked McGahn to Declare Trump Never Obstructed Justice". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  51. ^ Fandos, Nicholas (May 21, 2019). "McGahn Skips Hearing, Defying Subpoena, and Democrats' Anger Swells". The New York Times.
  52. ^ Nicholas Fandos; Charlie Savage (August 7, 2019). "Pondering Impeachment, House Sues Don McGahn, Ex-White House Counsel, for Testimony". The New York Times.
  53. ^ Allyn, Bobby (November 25, 2019). "In Blow To White House, Federal Judge Rules That Don McGahn Must Testify". NPR. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  54. ^ "COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY OF THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES v. MCGAHN II (1:19-cv-02379), District Of Columbia District Court". Retrieved December 8, 2019.
  55. ^ Samuelsohn, Darren; Gerstein, Josh (December 2, 2019). "Judge denies DOJ request for stay on Don McGahn testimony". POLITICO. Retrieved December 2, 2019.
  56. ^ "House Judiciary Committee v. McGahn" (PDF). Retrieved February 28, 2020.
  57. ^ a b c Savage, Charlie (February 29, 2020). "Court Rules Congress Cannot Sue to Force Executive Branch Officials to Testify". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved February 29, 2020.
  58. ^ "Full DC federal appeals court to hear McGahn and border wall cases in major separation-of-powers showdown".
  59. ^ Berman, Dan; Polantz, Katelyn; de Vogue, Ariane (August 7, 2020). "House can subpoena former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify, appeals court rules". CNN. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  60. ^ Gerstein, Josh; Cheney, Kyle (August 7, 2020). "Appeals court rejects key argument against McGahn subpoena". Politico. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  61. ^ Katelyn Polantz (August 31, 2020). "House Democrats can't subpoena former White House counsel, appeals court rules". CNN. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  62. ^ Polantz, Katelyn (September 2, 2020). "What Trump's big win over the House of Representatives means". CNN. Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  63. ^ "Trump-connected lobbyists reap windfall in federal virus aid". AP NEWS. July 6, 2020. Retrieved July 7, 2020.
  64. ^ "Secretary of the Treasury Announces Senior Staff". U.S. Department of the Treasury. U.S. Department of the Treasury Press Center. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
  65. ^ Lane, Sylvan (January 5, 2018). "Treasury aide McGahn, wife of White House counsel, to leave for House panel". The Hill.
  66. ^ Writers, MICHELLE BRUNETTI POST & JOHN DeROSIER Staff. "South Jersey natives have major role in Trump White House". Press of Atlantic City. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
  67. ^ Cummings, William. "The man tapped to be Trump's White House counsel rocks — no, seriously". USA Today. Retrieved June 27, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Barrett, Wayne (2016) [First published 1992]. Trump: The Deals and the Downfall (First Regan Art Paperback ed.). Harper Collins. ISBN 978-1-682450-79-6. Paperback title: The greatest show on Earth : The deals, the downfall, the reinvention

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Member of the Federal Election Commission
Succeeded by
Chair of the Federal Election Commission
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by White House Counsel
Succeeded by