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Exclusive: Trump blamed ex-counsel McGahn for Mueller investigation

Washington (CNN) Former White House Counsel Don McGahn ended his tumultuous tenure at the White House with one last encounter in which President Donald Trump blamed him for Robert Mueller's appointment, sources close to McGahn tell CNN.

In a face-to-face Oval Office meeting, the President groused to McGahn about Mueller's appointment made on McGahn's watch as White House counsel, and the cloud the investigation has continued to cast over the presidency, the people familiar with the conversation said.

Sources say while the President was fixated on Mueller, he also gave McGahn high marks for other matters during his time as the top White House lawyer, as CNN previously reported. One source said the President's continued frustration about Mueller is another example of him shifting blame for the ongoing Russia investigation.

McGahn had decided it was time to go and he left before the background investigation was complete for the incoming White House counsel Pat Cipollone, one source familiar said.

"Typically you would have the incumbent stay until the successor was ready to take his place. But in this case, McGahn was tired of the President and the President was tired of McGahn." The source added while the departure was "positive," both men recognized it was time for McGahn to go. "He didn't want to stay on and the President didn't want him to stay."

The President had surprised McGahn months ago in announcing McGahn's planned departure on Twitter and surprised him again in announcing his successor in an Associated Press interview, so the final meeting fit with the deteriorated state of their relationship.

McGahn has cooperated extensively with special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, participating in several interviews spanning 30 hours. The conversations unnerved Trump, who didn't know the full extent of McGahn's discussions, two people familiar with his thinking told CNN in August.

He has also been the key architect of Trump's efforts to stack the federal courts with conservative judges and successfully steered Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Trump has repeatedly cited the successes of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh as part of his appeal to Republicans, and they will be a lasting legacy of the President.

Previous arguments with McGahn

This wasn't the first time McGahn found himself in Trump's crosshairs. The two butted heads at the start of the administration as Attorney General Jeff Sessions faced pressure to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Trump enlisted McGahn to urge Sessions not to take that step — which he eventually did anyway. Trump remains furious at his attorney general for the recusal.

Later, Trump ordered McGahn to fire Mueller, an entreaty the White House counsel refused to carry out. Instead, McGahn threatened to resign.

The slew of incidents involving the President and McGahn amid the Russia investigation made the White House counsel an important witness in Mueller's investigation, with McGahn sitting for interviews with Mueller's team in December.

CNN's Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.
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