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 (acting)
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 50)
Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Shannon McGahn
EducationUniversity of Notre Dame (BA)
Widener University (JD)
Georgetown University (LLM)

Donald Francis McGahn II[pronunciation?] (born June 16, 1968) is an American lawyer and political figure. He served as White House Counsel for U.S. President Donald Trump, from the start of his administration through October 17, 2018. Previously, he served on the Federal Election Commission for over five years.

Early life and education[edit]

McGahn grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the son of Noreen (Rogan) and Donald F. McGahn,[1] and attended Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Atlantic City and Holy Spirit High School in nearby Absecon.[2] He briefly attended the United States Naval Academy before transferring to the University of Notre Dame.[3] At the University of Notre Dame he received a B.A. degree in history and computer applications.[4] He obtained his J.D. degree from Widener University School of Law in 1994 followed by an LL.M. degree from the Georgetown University Law Center in 2002.[5]


After graduation from law school, McGahn worked in campaign finance law at the Washington, D.C. office of law firm Patton Boggs.[6] From 1999 to 2008, McGahn was chief counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).[7]

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.[8][9] As presented with 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 block preventing any and all enforcement of FEC regulations. McGahn resigned from the FEC in September 2013.[10]

After leaving the FEC, McGahn returned to the law firm Patton Boggs.[7] In 2014 he moved to the law firm of Jones Day in Washington, D.C.[8] He also worked for the Koch affiliated Freedom Partners.[11] McGahn brought five Jones Day lawyers with him to the White House, and six more were appointed to senior posts in the Trump Administration.[12] Jones Day has represented Alfa-Bank and done work for businesses belonging to a long list of Russian oligarchs, including Oleg Deripaska, Viktor Vekselberg, and Alexander Mashkevich.[12]

Trump 2016 campaign[edit]

McGahn served as Donald Trump's campaign counsel during his 2016 campaign for president.[7] 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.[13] McGahn also assembled and oversaw the legal team that helped defeat the NeverTrump movement at the 2016 Republican National Convention, both in the RNC Rules Committee and on the convention floor.[14] 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.[15] McGahn successfully managed and won these litigations.[16]

Trump presidency[edit]

Shortly after Trump won the election, 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.[17][18]

Since the 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.[12]

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.[19] Gorsuch was sworn in on Monday April 10, 2017.[20] McGahn also recommended the nomination of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. Acosta was sworn in on April 28, 2017.[21]

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.[22]

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.[23] 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.[24] 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."[25]

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.[26][27]

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.".[28]

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!"[29][30] McGahn formally departed the Trump administration on October 17, 2018.[31]

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.[32]

Personal life[edit]

McGahn is married to Shannon McGahn, former Counselor to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin.[33][34] They have two sons.[7] He is a Roman Catholic.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Jean Quinn Rogan Obituary", Citizens' Voice via, May 19, 2014.
  2. ^ 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."
  3. ^ "White House Counsel, Don McGahn, Has Cooperated Extensively in Mueller Inquiry". The New York Times. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
  4. ^ "Donald F. McGahn -". Retrieved August 20, 2018.
  5. ^ "Georgetown Law Alumni in the News March 2017". Retrieved February 8, 2018.
  6. ^ Mullins, Brody; Jacoby, Mary (October 29, 2008). "FEC Chairman McGahn Marches to His Own Tune". Wall Street Journal.
  7. ^ a b c d Levine, Carrie (May 9, 2016). "Two very different Donalds, one White House goal". Center for Public Integrity.
  8. ^ a b Terris, Ben (April 11, 2016). "Trump's own Beltway establishment guy: The curious journey of Don McGahn". The Washington Post.
  9. ^ Roth, Zachary (March 23, 2016). "Trump's top lawyer helped open political spending floodgates". MSNBC.
  10. ^ Wilson, Reid (September 17, 2013). "Former FEC chairman Donald McGahn resigns from panel". The Washington Post.
  11. ^ "The Danger of President Pence".
  12. ^ a b c Dexter Filkins. "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.
  13. ^ Lichtblau, Eric (December 16, 2016). "In Donald McGahn, Donald Trump Gets a Combative White House Counsel". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Detrow, Scott (July 15, 2016). "'Never Trump Is Nevermore': Anti-Trump Forces Fail To Force RNC Floor Fight". NPR.
  15. ^ Allegri, Carlo (October 21, 2016). "Trump Sued in 4 States for Voter Intimidation". Newsweek.
  16. ^ de Vogue, Ariane (August 7, 2016). "Supreme Court won't restore court order against Trump over poll-watching in Ohio". CNN.
  17. ^ Bender, Michael C.; Palazzolo, Joe (November 26, 2016). "Donald Trump Selects Donald McGahn as White House Counsel". Wall Street Journal.
  18. ^ Cook, Nancy (February 21, 2017). "He's Going to Be an Enabler". Politico.
  19. ^ Kim, Seung Min (February 26, 2017). "Gorsuch questionnaire reveals selection process details for SCOTUS nominee". Politico.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Cook, Nancy (May 6, 2017). "Trump's top lawyer faces a giant cleanup job". Politico.
  22. ^ Savage, Charlie (November 11, 2017). "Trump Is Rapidly Reshaping the Judiciary. Here's How". The New York Times.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Schmidt, Michael S. (January 4, 2018). "Obstruction Inquiry Shows Trump's Struggle to Keep Grip on Russia Investigation". The New York Times.
  25. ^ Diaz, Daniella (January 5, 2018). "Ex-ethics chief: White House counsel 'is a cancer'". CNN.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ Schmidt, Michael S.; Haberman, Maggie (March 7, 2018). "Trump Asked Key Witnesses About Matters They Discussed With Special Counsel". The New York Times.
  28. ^ "White House Counsel Has Cooperated Extensively With Mueller's Obstruction Inquiry". Retrieved August 18, 2018.
  29. ^ "Don McGahn: Trump says White House counsel to depart". BBC. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
  30. ^ "Don McGahn to leave job as White House counsel, Trump says". CNN. Jeremy Diamond. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
  31. ^ Samuels, Brett (October 17, 2018). "McGahn departs as White House counsel". The Hill. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
  32. ^ Schmidt, Michael S.; Haberman, Maggie (November 20, 2018). "Trump Wanted to Order Justice Dept. to Prosecute Comey and Clinton" – via
  33. ^ "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.
  34. ^ Lane, Sylvan (January 5, 2018). "Treasury aide McGahn, wife of White House counsel, to leave for House panel". The Hill.
  35. ^ Writers, MICHELLE BRUNETTI POST & JOHN DeROSIER Staff. "South Jersey natives have major role in Trump White House". Press of Atlantic City. Retrieved 2018-10-18.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
David Mason
Member of the Federal Election Commission
Succeeded by
Lee E. Goodman
Chair of the Federal Election Commission
Succeeded by
Steven T. Walther
Legal offices
Preceded by
Neil Eggleston
White House Counsel
Succeeded by
Emmet Flood