The public airing of the notes — which document then-White House counsel Donald McGahn’s contemporaneous account of events and his fear that the president was engaged in legally risky conduct — has infuriated Trump.
“Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes,’ when the notes never existed until needed,” Trump tweeted a day after the release of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report.
The scribe keeping track of the president’s actions was Annie Donaldson, McGahn’s chief of staff, a loyal and low-profile conservative lawyer who figures in the Mueller report as one of the most important narrators of internal White House turmoil.
Her daily habit of documenting conversations and meetings provided the special counsel’s office with its version of the Nixon White House tapes: a running account of the president’s actions, albeit in sentence fragments and concise descriptions.
Among the episodes memorialized in Donaldson’s notes and memos: the president’s outrage when FBI Director James B. Comey confirmed the existence of the investigation into possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Trump’s efforts to pressure Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from overseeing the probe and his push to get Mueller disqualified and removed as the special counsel.
The Harvard Law School graduate’s unflinching words — “Just in the middle of another Russia Fiasco,” she wrote on March 2, 2017 — have cast the die-hard Republican in an unfamiliar role: as a truth teller heralded by Trump’s foes for providing what they view as proof he is unfit for office.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has already signaled that he intends to subpoena Donaldson as a critical witness.
Donaldson — who lives in Montgomery, Ala., where her husband recently got a job as a federal prosecutor — did not respond to requests for comment.
She left the White House in December, both proud of her service and also somewhat stung by her experience in Washington, friends said.
.. Those close to Donaldson fear she will be thrust in the middle of the building war between congressional Democrats and the White House. Some privately worry she could become a target of the president, despite having worked hard to help implement his agenda.
“My only concern for her now is not getting too caught up in this Washington meat grinder, when she really did the right thing and cooperated as she was directed,” said former Republican senator Luther Strange, who hired Donaldson to work in his law firm in Alabama.
As McGahn’s chief of staff, Donaldson was charged with managing 30 to 40 lawyers in the counsel’s office, getting White House policies legally vetted, keeping judicial nominations on track and working with McGahn on Trump’s top priorities.
Along the way, she did what virtually all lawyers consider a necessity: kept a record of decisions, disputes, and tasks left to do. Nearly every day, when McGahn emerged from the Oval Office or other West Wing meetings, she would take notes as he recalled significant discussions with the president and his team, according to people familiar with her role.
In the case of Nixon, the discovery of his White House taping system provided unquestionable proof of his role in a coverup of his campaign’s illegal spying on opponents, precipitating his resignation in 1974.