President Donald Trump demanded the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller in June, according to the New York Times, and backed down only when his White House counsel threatened to quit.
It was rumored at the time that Trump was considering firing Mueller, who continues to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia and the president’s possible obstruction of justice. Now Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman confirm that the president, seething at the Russia investigation, actually ordered Mueller’s firing.
White House counsel Don McGahn, according to the Times, told White House officials Trump would not fire Mueller himself, and the president walked back his directive in the face of his White House counsel’s resistance.
Trump’s disdain for the Russia investigation is no secret, and reports and speculation over whether Trump would fire Mueller have swirled for months. The Times report suggests that Mueller has been in near-constant jeopardy: “Mr. Trump has wavered for months about whether he wants to fire Mr. Mueller, whose job security is an omnipresent concern among the president’s legal team and close aides.”
Based on the Times report, Trump was itching to fire Mueller not long after his investigation began in May following the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and just as the special counsel’s investigation began expanding to include a possible obstruction of justice case against the president.
Sources told the Times that Trump sought to justify his firing of Mueller by trying to root out potential conflicts of interest — including an allegation that Mueller dropped his membership at Trump’s golf course in Virginia in 2011 because of a dustup over fees:
First, he claimed that a dispute years ago over fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., had prompted Mr. Mueller, the F.B.I. director at the time, to resign his membership. The president also said Mr. Mueller could not be impartial because he had most recently worked for the law firm that previously represented the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Finally, the president said, Mr. Mueller had been interviewed to return as the F.B.I. director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May.
Ty Cobb, the lead White House attorney working on the Russia probe, declined to comment to the Times about Trump’s attempts to fire Mueller.