President Donald Trump on Friday denied that he ordered Donald McGahn to fire special counsel Robert Mueller in June, only to drop the demand when the top White House lawyer threatened to quit.
Trump dubbed a New York Times report that posted online Thursday night “fake news” when he was asked about it at the World Economic Council Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
“Typical New York Times,” he said. “Fake stories.”
According to the newspaper, Trump at the time questioned if Mueller had conflicts of interest that should lead to his termination. That reportedly followed a wave of news reports that Mueller was looking into whether Trump had obstructed justice in response to the probe into Russia’s 2016 election meddling and potential ties between the Trump-Pence campaign and the Kremlin.
Trump alleged that Mueller resigned his membership at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, after a spat over fees, the Times reported. The president also alleged that the former FBI director is unable to be objective in the DOJ investigation because he had once worked for a law firm that had represented Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, who also worked on the campaign and is now a senior White House adviser.
According to the report, Trump also contended that Mueller might be out for payback after interviewing for another term as FBI chief only to be passed over.
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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her top deputy, Raj Shah, are in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum with Trump, six hours ahead of Washington time. Neither has responded to a request for comment. White House lawyer Ty Cobb, as well as deputy press secretaries Hogan Gidley and Lindsay Walters, are in Washington. They have also not responded to a request for comment.
The Times cited four sources close to Trump in its report.
Trump told reporters Wednesday evening he is “disturbed” by allegations of internal FBI opposition to his presidency. He also would not say he has confidence that Mueller will treat him fairly.
“I would love to do it, and I would like to do it as soon as possible,” Trump said. “I would do it under oath, absolutely.” The president indicated his meeting with the special counsel could happen within three weeks, but added it would be “subject to my lawyers.”.
“You fight back, oh, it’s obstruction,” Trump said, arguing he merely defended himself with some actions.
The alleged episode conjures up memories of former President Richard Nixon, who fired Justice Department officials during the Watergate scandal and eventually resigned. Trump joined a small group, including Nixon, when he fired FBI Director James B. Comey in May, allegedly in part over the Russia probe.
Even some prominent Republican lawmakers have said publicly that Trump should not fire Mueller, saying it would cross a legal line and raise serious questions about the future of his tenure. One key Democrat issued a new warning on Thursday night.
“I’ve said it before, and I am saying it again: firing the special counsel is a red line that the president cannot cross,” Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, 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.”
— Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.