Loyalty is something President Donald Trump demands, but doesn’t necessarily return. Just ask ex–White House Counsel Don McGahn.
In recent weeks, the president has turned on his former lawyer for making some of the most explosive claims about Trump’s conduct in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. “Never a big fan!” Trump tweeted earlier in May, suggesting he had been tempted to fire McGahn. Just this week, he barred McGahn from testifying to the House Judiciary Committee about what he saw and heard inside the White House.
But McGahn’s service may have been more valuable to Trump than he realizes—it could even wind up prolonging his presidency.
Because Trump never saw McGahn as a confidant—because he didn’t look to him much for legal advice—McGahn had more time and space to pursue a pet project: stocking the courts with conservative judges, former White House aides told me. And with multiple lawsuits threatening Trump’s interests wending their way through the courts, federal judges hold enormous sway over the president’s fate.
Judges are now deciding whether Trump has violated constitutional provisions against accepting gifts from foreign countries through visits to his Washington, D.C., hotel. They will determine whether banks and accounting firms must turn over Trump’s financial records. They will rule on whether the Treasury Department must fork over Trump’s tax returns. And there’s bound to be more litigation flowing through the courts as congressional Democrats and Trump grapple over the release of additional personal, business, and official-administration records. Unfavorable decisions could be disastrous for Trump, meaning that McGahn’s work seeding the federal courts, in particular with judges sympathetic to executive power, could prove crucial to Trump’s political survival.