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Politics Sunday: Don McGahn, Mueller, Brennan


While President Trump's been attacking special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump's White House counsel has reportedly been talking extensively with him. Let's begin this hour with that and security clearances with Mara Liasson. She's NPR national political correspondent, and she joins us now. Good morning, Mara.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So that first item about President Trump's White House lawyer Don McGahn comes to us via The New York Times. And the president has been responding to that story this morning.

LIASSON: That's right. The president has tweeted that he allowed McGahn to cooperate with the special counsel. Now, of course, that was under the first White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, who believed in cooperating with the special counsel. The White House's approach has changed since they got a new lawyer Emmet Flood, who's taking a more aggressive approach to the Mueller investigation. But the White House counsel is the lawyer for the office of the presidency. He's not the president's personal lawyer. And The New York Times says that he talked to the Mueller investigators three times over a period of nine months for 30 hours - sounds like a lot. And he described the president's state of mind about the Russia investigation. All of this goes to Mueller's investigation of whether Trump obstructed justice when, among other things, he told McGahn at one point to try to fire Mueller, which McGahn didn't do.

But the most extraordinary thing about The New York Times story is that it suggests that McGahn talked to Mueller to show Mueller that he did nothing wrong. He wanted to protect himself. He was concerned that Trump would throw him under the bus, blame him for any illegal actions - kind of like Richard Nixon blamed John Dean. And today, the president tweeted that he didn't like The New York Times suggesting that McGahn was a, quote, "John Dean type rat." And he repeated that he had nothing to hide. But once again, this is a story that shows a White House full of mistrust, paranoia and suspicion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to get your take on what the president made sure dominated the headlines this past week, and that is security clearances. He stripped John Brennan's, the former CIA director. He threatened to take away more, including a Justice Department official. Does the stated purpose of that move that Brennan has used his access to state secrets to make "wild outbursts," quote, stand up to you?

LIASSON: Well, the president is threatening to revoke the security clearances of a whole bunch of critics of his. And this is all part of the president's effort to undermine and discredit the Mueller investigation. And it's working. It's working with Republicans who increasingly think that Mueller is conflicted, which is what the president says he is. They don't like the investigation. And all of this, I think, is an effort to make sure that whatever Mueller comes up with in the end the president can dismiss as the product of a tainted investigation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's the impact of removing the clearance, do you think?

LIASSON: The impact could be pretty chilling, according to a lot of former intelligence officials. This is another example of President Trump breaking norms. Presidents do have the power to grant and revoke security clearances, but that is something that they usually delegate to the intelligence agency heads. This got extraordinary pushback from a large group of former top intelligence officials who are worried about the threats to current intelligence officials. In other words, the president talked about removing the security clearance of a top Justice Department official. And they're worried that this will have a chilling effect on people who brief the president. If you're going to tell the president about intelligence that he might not like, you might be worried that he'll yank your security clearance. You're going to pull your punches.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.