How a White House aide’s notes became a road map for Mueller

Annie Donaldson, who served as chief of staff to White House counsel Donald McGahn, emerges in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's report as one of the most important narrators of internal White House turmoil. Her daily habit of documenting conversations and meetings provided the special counsel’s office with its version of the Nixon White House tapes: a contemporary account of the president’s actions, albeit in sentence fragments and concise descriptions.

March 2, 2017

“Just in the middle of another Russia Fiasco”

Fuming that Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to recuse himself from the Russia probe,President Trump calls McGahn and asks him to urge Sessions not to recuse. McGahn tells investigators he believes Trump feared a recusal would leave him unprotected and hobble his agenda.

March 12, 2017

“POTUS in panic/chaos ... Need binders to put in front of POTUS... All things related to Russia.”

Donaldson describes Trump's demand for information about the Russia probe three days after FBI Director James B. Comey briefed congressional leaders about the FBI's investigation, which was focusing on several Trump campaign aides and advisers.

March 21, 2017

“beside himself ... getting hotter and hotter, get rid?”

Trump is furious after Comey publicly confirms the existence of the Russia investigation in testimony to Congress and does not make clear the president was not under investigation. Officials in the White House counsel's office are so concerned that Trump will fire Comey that they begin drafting a memo examining whether he needs cause to make such a move.

May 9, 2017

“[n]ot [see the] light of day...[n]o other rationales”

As Trump builds a case to fire Comey, the White House counsel's office seeks to keep the president from using a letter that cites the Russia investigation. McGahn urges citing Justice Department officials’ concerns about Comey, but the president insists on referring to the fact that Comey told him privately he was not under investigation.

May 9, 2017

Is “this the beginning of the end?”

Donaldson records her worry that Trump's handling of the Comey firing could mean the end of his presidency.

May 9, 2017

“Resign vs. Removal. - POTUS /removal.”

McGahn and one of his deputies try to convince Trump to let Comey resign, rather than fire him, but Trump refuses.

May 31, 2017

“look like still trying to meddle in [the] investigation” ... “knocking out Mueller” … “[a]nother fact used to claim obst[ruction] of just[ice]."

McGahn warns Trump that asserting conflicts of interest might look like he was interfering, and getting Mueller removed for that reason could be cited as evidence that Trump was obstructing the investigation.

May 31, 2017

“biggest exposure... other contacts....calls... ask re: Flynn”

McGahn seeks to warn Trump that some of the actions he took — such as asking Comey to let go of his investigation of Flynn — could make him vulnerable to accusations of obstruction of justice.

Carol D. Leonnig

Carol Leonnig is an investigative reporter at The Washington Post, where she has worked since 2000. She won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for her work on security failures and misconduct inside the Secret Service.