POLITICS

Trump wanted Mueller fired back in June, reports say

President Donald Trump says he’s “looking forward” to being interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Trump says he’d be willing to answer questions under oath. (Jan. 24)

AP

President Trump gave the order to fire the man leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but he backed down after the top White House counsel told him the firing would decimate public confidence in the presidency, the New York Times and Washington Post reported Thursday.

The revelation is the first hint that Trump, hounded by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into the Russian fiasco, took steps to have Mueller removed. Such a firing would have set the Russia probe back months, and possibly could have silenced it altogether.

Reaction has already been vitriolic, particularly among Democrats. U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called for a bipartisan rebuke of the president’s actions.

“I’ve said it before, and I am saying it again: Firing the Special Counsel is a red line that the President cannot cross,” Warner said in a statement Thursday night. “Any attempt to remove the Special Counsel, pardon key witnesses, or otherwise interfere in the investigation, would be a gross abuse of power, and all members of Congress, from both parties, have a responsibility to our Constitution and to our country to make that clear immediately.”

Trump gave the order for the firing in June, the Times reported. Mueller learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials in his inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice, the Times reported, citing unnamed officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to the Times:

— Amid the first wave of news media reports that Mueller was examining a possible obstruction case, the president began to argue that Mueller had three conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation, two unnamed sources said.

— First, he claimed that a dispute years ago over fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., had prompted Mueller, the F.B.I. director at the time, to resign his membership. The president also said 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, Mueller had been interviewed to return as the F.B.I. director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May.

— After receiving the president’s order to fire Mueller, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, refused to ask the Justice Department to dismiss the special counsel, saying he would quit instead, the people said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a continuing investigation.

— McGahn disagreed with the president’s case and told senior White House officials that firing Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Trump’s presidency. McGahn also told White House officials that Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own. The president then backed off.

McGahn did not deliver his resignation threat directly to Trump, but was serious about his threat to leave, according to a person familiar with the episode, the Washington Post reported.

Trump was initially calm when Mueller was appointed, surprising White House aides, the Post reported, citing a senior administration official.

But in the weeks that followed, the president spoke with a number of friends and advisers who convinced him that Mueller would dig through his private finances and look beyond questions of collusion with Russians, according to the Post. The advisors warned that the probe could last years and would ruin his first term in office.

More: Jeff Sessions interviewed by Mueller’s team as part of Russia investigation

Related: Mueller team in early talks for possible interview with Trump

White House lawyer: Trump ‘eager’ to talk to Robert Mueller

Mueller is spearheading the probe into whether Trump obstructed federal investigators during the Russia inquiry.

Congressional investigators are heading into 2018 with no immediate end in sight to their probes into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Mueller’s inquiry appears to be gaining steam. It has also produced guilty pleas and pledges of cooperation from ex-campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI.

White House special counsel Ty Cobb has expressed optimism that Mueller’s investigation is winding down, indicating earlier this month that all interviews that investigators requested of White House staffers have been completed.

Yet some analysts cautioned that there are no obvious signs of a finish line in sight.

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