President-elect Donald Trump announced Friday that he had picked election lawyer Donald McGahn, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, to be his White House counsel.
White House counsel is usually an under-the-radar position in an administration, but Trump is bringing an unprecedented tangle of ongoing legal matters and potential conflicts of interest with him to the White House.
McGahn’s selection is not a surprise. He was reportedly the leading contender for the role and previously worked for Trump’s campaign and transition team.
McGahn’s professional experience includes 10 years as general counsel for the campaign arm of House Republicans. He’s currently a partner at the D.C. office of Jones Day, one of the largest law firms in the U.S.
“Don has a brilliant legal mind, excellent character and a deep understanding of constitutional law,” Trump said in a statement. “He will play a critical role in our administration, and I am grateful that he is willing to serve our country at such a high-level capacity.”
Trump’s official lawyer may also find himself quite busy. According to a USA Today tally published two weeks before Election Day, there were 75 open lawsuits facing Trump and his businesses.
“If elected, the open lawsuits will tag along with Trump. He would not be entitled to immunity, and could be required to give depositions or even testify in open court,” USA Today reported. “That could chew up time and expose a litany of uncomfortable private and business dealings to the public.”
Those potential burdens likely influenced Trump’s decision last week to pay $25 million to settle three outstanding lawsuits against him and his now-defunct for-profit Trump University. In one of the lawsuits, Trump was set to testify at trial.
Trump and McGahn also have to decide how the property magnate will deal with his business empire and its ties to foreign interests.
The president-elect already has had issues navigating that ethical minefield. He acknowledged earlier this week to the New York Times that he “might have” encouraged British politician Nigel Farage to oppose offshore wind farms, which Trump believes will ruin the views from one of his Scottish golf clubs. Earlier this month, Trump met with Indian business partners who are building a Trump-branded complex in their country.
Trump has repeatedly said he will have his three eldest children — Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric — take over his businesses. But their continued role in his White House transition raises questions about potential conflicts of interest. Ivanka attended her father’s recent meeting with the Japanese prime minister.
And there’s the inescapable fact that, unless he were to liquidate his assets, Trump will be keenly aware of how decisions he makes in office affect his net worth. Indeed, many of his most valuable assets have “Trump” written on them in giant gold letters.
President Obama said Sunday that he personally advised Trump to have a “strong White House counsel” who could “provide clear guideposts and rules [that] would benefit him and benefit his team because it would eliminate a lot of ambiguity,” according to a White House transcript.
For his part, Trump said he would try to avoid blurring the line between his businesses and official acts as president. But he appears willing to test some of the self-imposed boundaries that have guided past presidents.
“As far as the, you know, potential conflict of interests, though, I mean I know that from the standpoint, the law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest,” he told the Times this week. “That’s been reported very widely. Despite that, I don’t want there to be a conflict of interest anyway.”
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