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Don McGahn--The White House Counsel Behind Trump's SCOTUS Pick

White House Counsel Don McGahn’s Overarching Mission-- To Reshape the Supreme and Lower Federal Courts in Demagogue Donald’s Right-Wing Image July 3, 2018

The G rand O bsessed P arty is hell bent on two issues. Issue #1--tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts for the top 1% gazillionaires. Issue #2-- remaking the Supreme and lower federal courts in their pro-business/social conservative image. We all know about “Team Red’s” tax cut mania. In the end, all GOPers, even ME’s “moderate” Sen. Susan Collins and AK’s Lisa Murkowski vote “Yea” to give budget busting breaks to the GOP’s billionaire donor class. They conveniently ignore the fact that such legislation hurts middle class voters on property tax deductions and will raise many of their tax bills. Too many Democrats, however, don’t seem to get that the GOP’s twin base-- the top 1% and the rabid social/religious bloc-- are just as fanatical about remaking the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and the lower federal district and circuit appellate courts in their image. Under GOP “thinking” SCOTUS has to “protect” the Koch/Mercer big business gang and the anti-choice/pro-evangelical conservative wing long after Trump or any other president leaves office. When Democrats did not vote in the 2014 midterms, the GOP took back the Senate. After conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly in 2/2016, obstructionist Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came to the GOP’s “rescue.” McConnell and all his “Red” Senate members kept President Obama’s choice for that seat, brilliant progressive Merrick Garland, from even getting a hearing. McConnell made up the “rule” that no SCOTUS nominee should be confirmed or even get a hearing until after the 2016 presidential election. The issue of who would sit on SCOTUS paid “y uu ge” political dividends in Campaign 2016. According to exit polls, 56% of Trump voters said that who gets appointed to the High Court was the most important factor in their choice. Only 41% of Hillary voters felt the same way. Throughout the campaign, Trump pushed his commitment to nominate rock-ribbed anti-choice conservatives to the High Court. Because of Trump’s SCOTUS stand, religious right voters ignored Donald’s personal immoral lifestyle and cast ballots “bigly” for him (See nytimes, Dias & Peters, 6/28/18). Hillary and most Democrats, unfortunately, did not emphasize this issue.

The matter of who would be appointed to the SCOTUS bench also hurt Democrats in Senate races where even most pundits felt “Team Blue” could take back that chamber. Charismatic and attractive MO Democrat Jason Kander had a good chance to unseat GOP incumbent Roy Blunt. However, on the campaign trail, Kander repeatedly ran into swing and GOP voters who told them that they would have gone for him, but had to vote for Blunt, because it was all about the Supreme Court. In their book, only GOPer Blunt would confirm the “right” (read, right-wing) Justices to the High Court. Kander lost the election and a chance for a key “Team Blue” flip by a narrow 2.8% margin, even though he outperformed Hillary and other Democrats (NY Times, “MO Results”).

Once Trump won, he nominated Scalia-plus clone Neil Gorsuch to the highjacked Garland seat. GOP Majority Leader McConnell made sure to kill the Democratic filibuster by invoking the never before used “nuclear option” for a SCOTUS seat, under which Gorsuch won confirmation by a 51 plus majority vote, not the normal 60 previously needed. On the bench, Gorsuch has delivered just as Trump and his GOP lapdogs had hoped. In 15 out of 18 cases, decided by a 5-4 vote, including the anti-Muslim travel ban, the anti-union dues case, and the pro- gerrymandering decisions, Gorsuch supplied the decisive vote. In 14 of those, he voted with the Court’s conservatives. Gorsuch turned in the “most consequential freshman performance by a SCOTUS member in living memory (Liptak & Parlapiano, 6/28/14, nytimes.com).” However, with Justice Anthony Kennedy on the bench, abortion rights and gay rights remained in place. Even though Kennedy mainly sided with conservatives, especially in this term, he kept SCOTUS from adopting extreme stances on issues that Gorsuch, Thomas, and Alito were often advocating.

On 6/27/2018, after SCOTUS finished its 2017-2018 term, Justice Kennedy announced he was retiring (nytimes, Martin, Peters, & Dias, 6/27/18). Right-wing conservatives were ecstatic, progressives horrified. A Trump replacement could easily overturn Roe v. Wade, gay rights, voting rights, health care, and further limit worker and union protections. Immigration rights could also be at stake and the First Amendment’s anti- Establishment of Religion clause could be more seriously eroded with no checks from the likes of a Justice Kennedy. The issue of whether Donald can limit special counsel Robert Mueller’s power in the Russian collusion investigation and even pardon himself could also come before Trump’s next SCOTUS pick (See NY Times, 6/27/18, Berman, P.S., nytimes, 6/29/18).

The White House is pushing the search for Trump’s next SCOTUS nominee into overdrive. Heading this search and selection process for the next ultra-hard line Trump nominee is Don McGahn, Trump’s White House counsel. McGahn will also handle the confirmation process (politico.com, nytimes. Com, 7/02/18). In the last several months, McGahn had been thinking of leaving his high-demanding and exhausting job. However, after Justice Kennedy announced his retirement, McGahn was motivated to stay. Why? Because McGahn has been on a “mission.” His mission is to reshape the judiciary from SCOTUS on down in the Trumpian/GOP business and social conservative extreme right image (cnn.com de Vogue, Supreme Ct. Reporter, 6/28/18). Meet Don McGahn.

Donald F. McGahn II (50) was born and grew up in Atlantic City, NJ. A product of Catholic elementary and high schools, McGahn attended the U.S. Naval Academy. He received a 1991 BA in history and computer applications from the University of Notre Dame. He obtained his law degree from Widener University in 1994 and a 2002 Master of Laws from Georgetown University (legacy.com/citizensvoice,5/19/14, pressofatlanticcity.com, 5/17/17, “McGahn Bio,” law.georgetown.edu, 3/17). After law school, McGahn worked in campaign finance at the D.C. office of the powerhouse law firm/lobbying group Patton Boggs. From 1999-2008, McGahn, a stalwart GOPer, was the National Republican Congressional Committee’s (NRCC) chief counsel. The NRCC is the “Team Red” group that recruits and finances congressional candidates (See Mullins & Jacoby, Wall Street Journal, 10/29/08, Levine, 5/09/16, publicintegrity.org). In 2008, W Bush nominated McGahn as a GOP-selected member of the FEC (Federal Election Commission). On that body, McGahn was credited with having played a crucial role in loosening regulations on campaign spending (Wash. Post, Terris, 4/11/16, MSNBC, Roth, 3/23/16). In 2013, McGahn left the FEC and practiced law with Jones Day, Scalia’s old law firm (Terris, Wash. Post, 4/11/16).

McGahn was with Demagogue Donald from the get-go. He served as Trump’s campaign counsel during his 2016 presidential campaign. McGahn managed all litigation involving Trump’s 2016 campaign. He went to court and successfully stopped efforts to keep Trump off the NH primary ballot. He assembled and oversaw the legal team that helped defeat the NeverTrump movement at the 2016 GOP Convention, both in the Rules Committee and on the convention floor. Several weeks before the election, when lawsuits were filed in four battleground states alleging voter intimidation and seeking to enjoin the Trump campaign from having observers at polling locations, McGahn managed and won these court cases (Lichtblau, nytimes.com, 12/16/16, Detrow, NPR, 7/15/16, deVogue, CNN, 8/07/16).

After Trump’s election, he named McGahn General Counsel of the Presidential Transition Team. On 11/25/2016, Donald named McGahn White House Counsel (wsj.com, Bender, 11/26/16, politico.com, Cook, 2/21/17). According to the NY Times, McGahn conveyed instructions from Donald to Atty. General Jeff Sessions, requesting that Sessions not recuse himself from overseeing investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election (Schmidt, 1/04/18). Sessions, however, recused himself which led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. Walter Schaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, stated that with this action, McGahn had “done much to undermine anticorruption mechanisms in this country.” Schaub called McGahn’s action here “a crime (cnn.com, Diaz, 1/05/18).” However, when Trump asked McGahn to dismiss special Counsel Mueller in 6/2017, McGahn refused and threatened to resign (nytimes.com, Schmidt & Haberman, 1/25/18). McGahn, who had been involved in the decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, feared that firing Mueller would have a “catastrophic effect on Trump’s presidency.” Translation: a super- downward spiral in the polls or even impeachment (See Schmidt & Haberman,1/25/18). McGahn, IMHO, was not suddenly becoming an ethical watchdog. He was just, once again, trying to save his boss.

McGahn, as was previously stated, wants his legacy to consist of being the chief missionary in reshaping SCOTUS and the rest of the federal judiciary. McGahn began this effort to reshape all the federal judiciary into a right-wing plus mold in the early days of Donald’s administration. He quickly assembled a team of lawyers to oversee filling all judicial vacancies. He worked hard, collaborating with GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to fill any vacancies ASAP with right-wing Trump disciples. Because of McGahn’s work, an unprecedented number of hardline GOP federal judges at the District and Circuit Appellate levels have been confirmed. By 11/11/2017, Trump, under McGahn’s leadership, had already appointed 10 appellate federal judges, the most that early in an administration since the time of Richard Nixon (nytimes, Liptak & Haberman, 6/28/18, deVogue, CNN, 6/28/18, Savage, nytimes.com, 11/11/17).

McGahn personally recommended that Trump nominate Neil Gorsuch to replace Scalia on the High Court. McGahn first officially interviewed Gorsuch, along with other members of Trump’s staff, in Trump Tower on 1/05/2017. On 1/14/2017, Trump joined McGahn in a meeting with Gorsuch. These meetings, arranged by McGahn, occurred before Trump was even inaugurated. On 1/27/2017, McGahn called Gorsuch to tell him that he had been selected for the Court, four days before Donald made his SCOTUS pick of Gorsuch known to the public (politico.com, 2/26/17, Kim, Wash. Post, 4/10/17, Barnes & Parker, CNN, Collinson, 1/31/17).

In McGahn, Trump and his GOP lackeys could not have a more dedicated/ fanatical legal advisor who will do his “darndest” to reshape the federal judicial system in the Koch/social conservative image. Democrats must fight fiercely against the Trump/McGahn picks. Even if we fail to keep the next Trump/McGahn/Gorsuch clone from getting on the SCOTUS bench, we must make the issue of appointing progressive court judges a major one in Campaign 2018 and in every other national election. We must have our own McGahns ready to select top progressive judges and primed for battle with the GOP reactionaries on this key issue. Again, Supreme Court Justices and lower federal ones can leave their influences on this country for over 40 years. To paraphrase the Clinton campaign slogan on the economy, “It’s the courts, stupid!”