January 5, 2018 / 4:50 PM / 3 months ago

Democrat: Fire White House lawyer over Russia probe report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top House Democrat called for the immediate dismissal of White House counsel Don McGahn on Friday after a report that President Donald Trump asked McGahn to urge Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the investigation of Russian election meddling.

Workers cut branches from the magnolia tree planted by President Andrew Jackson after it was determined the tree had become weak due to age and decay at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 27, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler said the incident, reported in the New York Times, was a clear effort to obstruct the Russia probe and he expected McGahn to volunteer to testify before the Judiciary Committee.

The Times said Trump directed McGahn to stop Sessions, who was a chief adviser in Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, from removing himself from a Justice Department probe into whether the campaign worked with Russians to sway the 2016 election.

McGahn failed to persuade Sessions to remain involved and Trump erupted in anger in front of a number of White House officials, saying the attorney general needed to protect him, according to the Times, which cited two people with knowledge of the episode.

Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said the attorney general’s job was to uphold the law, including rules on conflict of interest.

“Either Mr. McGahn knows this and decided to interfere with the Russia investigation anyway, or he doesn’t,” Nadler said in a statement. “Neither case is acceptable and he should be removed from his post immediately.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Nadler’s call for McGahn to step down.

After Sessions recused himself in March, the Justice Department appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the investigation into possible collusion and whether Trump tried to obstruct the FBI’s Russian inquiry. Republicans have attacked Mueller’s probe as politically motivated, prompting concerns among Democrats that Trump would fire him.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal urged lawmakers on Friday to support legislation protecting the special counsel, citing the Times report. “Explosive evidence of obstruction - and imminent danger to Special Counsel. White House Staff need to testify before grand jury,” Blumenthal wrote on Twitter.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott

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