Oxon Hill, Maryland--White House counsel Don McGahn has been in the news probably more than he would like lately -- the Rob Porter situation, and threatening to resign last June, for a short list.
But at a gathering of conservative activists for the Conservative Political Action Conference just outside Washington, D.C., on Thursday, he was there to talk about a much more friendly topic in one of the few interviews he has given since last year -- the president's judicial nominees.
McGahn, as White House counsel from the early days of President Trump's administration, deals with the fires that seem to haunt Mr. Trump's White House. He was reminded as such by the moderator from Hillsdale College on Wednesday, who said McGahn has to deal with practically everything at the White House.
"Unfortunately, yes," McGahn said.
But that was about the closest McGahn had to get to some of the more uncomfortable news for the White House. At CPAC, faced with a largely friendly crowd of conservative activists, McGahn was there to talk about the president's judicial nominees and regulatory reforms. He was asked no tough questions, or questions related to recent controversies at all.
McGahn's public profile has increased in recent months. A new book soon to be released about the early days of the Trump White House, "The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency," describes how a panicked McGahn attempted to keep Attorney General Jeff Sessions from resigning. As then-chief of staff Reince Priebus described it, "Don McGahn came in my office pretty hot, red, out of breath, and said, 'We've got a problem.' I responded, 'What?' And he said, 'Well, we just got a special counsel, and (Attorney General Jeff) Sessions just resigned.' I said, 'What!? What the hell are you talking about?'"
McGahn has also come under an unwelcome spotlight for his role in handling the Rob Porter situation. As CBS News has reported, McGahn was first informed that there were apparently issues with Porter's clearance and background check as early as January 2017, a full year before allegations emerged publicly from Porter's two ex-wives claiming he abused them. McGahn also continues to have to manage the fallout from the special counsel's Russia probe, which continues, despite the president's hopes that it will end soon.
McGahn is one of many administration officials appearing at the annual gathering of conservative activists at the National Harbor in Maryland. Preceding him was Vice President Mike Pence. President Trump is slated to speak on Friday.
McGahn able to avoid controversies of the day
McGahn -- perhaps unexpectedly -- was not asked any questions about any of the White House controversies of the day.
Instead, he was asked what it is the White House counsel's office does, what kind of candidates Mr. Trump wants in judicial nominees, and how the president's regulatory reforms are changing the country.
McGahn says Trump wants courageous judges
McGahn is here to talk about the president's judicial nominees -- despite all the spotlight on him for more controversial things recently.
McGahn said the president is looking for judicial nominees who will be courageous, and not change who they are once they join the bench. One of Mr. Trump's primary focuses so far has been placing young, conservative justices on the bench.