The timing of the White House’s request — which was made to McGahn’s attorney William Burck through top White House lawyer Emmet Flood, according to the official — is unclear.
The official and a separate source familiar with the matter said that McGahn previously told special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators he didn’t believe Trump obstructed justice.
A source familiar with Flood’s call to Burck conveying the request said Trump was upset by McGahn’s refusal to state publicly that the President did not obstruct justice.
Burck asserted Friday that McGahn’s team did not interpret the request as “any kind of threat.”
“We did not perceive it as any kind of threat or something sinister,” Burck said in a statement. “It was a request, professionally and cordially made.”
The source added that McGahn and his lawyer didn’t think that such a public statement was necessary because Attorney General Bill Barr had already come out and said Trump didn’t obstruct justice.
Sources could not confirm to CNN that Flood made two calls to Burck.
Administration officials thought that having McGahn make such a statement publicly would assuage Trump and buttress the White House’s narrative combating the Mueller report’s assessment of specific instances of potential obstruction, a person briefed on the White House’s requests to McGahn told the Times.
Trump again denied on Saturday that he was going to fire Mueller and argued that the special counsel was allowed to finish his report “with unprecedented help from the Trump Administration.”
Barr told Congress before the report’s release that Mueller did not come to a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice and that Barr and Rosenstein had concluded that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
In the redacted report released later, Mueller indicated that the investigation into possible obstruction of justice could not clear Trump. The White House complained to Barr that Mueller should have made a decision on whether Trump obstructed justice.
CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.