WASHINGTON — President Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, attacked the credibility of a former White House counsel on Friday, saying his account of how Mr. Trump told him to remove the special counsel was inaccurate.
Mr. Giuliani’s statement was the most extensive pushback by the president’s lawyers against the former counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, who cooperated extensively with the special counsel’s investigators. The report detailing the findings of the investigation, released on Thursday, also included several damning examples of how Mr. Trump tried to interfere with the investigation, like Mr. McGahn’s account.
“It can’t be taken at face value,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview. “It could be the product of an inaccurate recollection or could be the product of something else.”
Mr. McGahn’s lawyer, William A. Burck, pushed back on Mr. Giuliani’s attack.
“It’s a mystery why Rudy Giuliani feels the need to relitigate incidents the attorney general and deputy attorney general have concluded were not obstruction,” Mr. Burck said. “But they are accurately described in the report.”
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, examined a wide range of actions that Mr. Trump took as president that could be considered obstruction of justice. Investigators relied heavily on Mr. McGahn, who provided detailed accounts of what Mr. Trump did and said behind closed doors as he tried to maintain control over the Russia investigation.
Among the damaging episodes was one based largely on Mr. McGahn that laid out how Mr. Trump told him in June 2017 to have Mr. Mueller ousted because he had several conflict of interest issues. Mr. McGahn believed the conflicts had little merit and told senior White House officials that he was going to resign instead of carrying out Mr. Trump’s order.
Mr. Giuliani said that the president never asked Mr. McGahn to have Mr. Mueller removed, adding that Mr. Trump was simply venting about his frustrations with the special counsel’s investigation, which had cast a cloud over his presidency.
“If it were subject to cross-examination or analysis, it would be a different version,” Mr. Giuliani said.
On the day Mr. McGahn threatened to quit, Mr. Burck told him to hold back on telling other White House officials about what the president was asking him to do. Mr. Burck wanted to stop Mr. McGahn from roping other White House officials into the obstruction of justice investigation and from creating the impression that Mr. McGahn was willing to help Mr. Trump oust Mr. Mueller.
Because Mr. McGahn mainly discussed the issue with Mr. Burck, there are not many witnesses to back him up. In an effort to substantiate Mr. McGahn’s credibility, Mr. Mueller’s team obtained Mr. McGahn’s phone records from the episode. Although Mr. McGahn told investigators that there were two conversations he had with Mr. Trump, the records show only one call, according the report.
“While McGahn was not certain of the specific dates of the calls,” the report said, “McGahn was confident that he had at least two phone conversations with the president in which the president directed him to call the acting attorney general to have the special counsel removed.”
The report said that investigators accepted Mr. McGahn’s account because he was “a credible witness with no motive to lie or exaggerate given the position he held in the White House.”
In attacking Mr. McGahn, Mr. Giuliani went further than the president had earlier Friday, when he walked up to the line of calling Mr. McGahn out on Twitter. Mr. Trump posted that “statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue.”
“Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes,’ when the notes never existed until needed,” the president tweeted.