White House counsel Donald McGahn officially left the administration on Wednesday, according to a senior White House official and another person briefed on his departure — ending a tenure marked by a significant reshaping of the federal judiciary but also clashes with President Trump over the ongoing special counsel probe.
Trump announced in late August that McGahn would exit after his second Supreme Court nominee, Brett M. Kavanaugh, was confirmed — a process that took slightly longer than initially planned after sexual misconduct allegations that roiled the contentious fight over his nomination on Capitol Hill.
Kavanaugh was confirmed Oct. 6, and McGahn was one of his most ardent defenders within the administration as the nominee fought those accusations.
McGahn met with Trump to say goodbye on his last day, according to the person familiar with his departure. His successor will be veteran Washington lawyer Pat Cipollone, who has been informally advising Trump’s personal attorneys for months on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. McGahn’s formal departure was first reported by the New York Times.
The transition comes as the White House is bracing for potential major losses in November’s midterm elections, which could hand control of the House of Representatives to Democrats who are already preparing to launch an onslaught of investigations into the Trump administration. The White House Counsel’s Office, whose staffing has been decimated in recent months, would be the clearinghouse for the administration’s response to subpoenas and oversight requests.
McGahn is also exiting at a time when the White House, working in tandem with Senate Republicans, is continuing to rack up more confirmations of conservative jurists to federal courts at all levels. In addition to Kavanaugh, Trump chose now-Justice Neil M. Gorsuch for the nation’s most powerful court, as well as 29 circuit judges and dozens more to the district courts.
That figure for the circuit courts, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) noted in a Fox News interview Wednesday night, is a “record for any administration this early in its term.” McConnell, as well as other key GOP senators, has effusively praised McGahn for his efforts in vetting conservative candidates for the courts and giving Trump one of his most significant and lasting wins of his presidency.
But there has also been deep friction between Trump and McGahn, who has met multiple times with Mueller’s team for several hours as the special counsel continues his investigation. Earlier in the probe, McGahn had clashed with Trump’s outside attorneys over the Russia inquiry, and he questioned their willingness to provide nearly every record and witness the special counsel requested.