President Donald Trump on Friday denied instructing then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, despite the special counsel finding evidence he did so — including via direct testimony from McGahn himself.
The president might have stirred a political hornets’ nest when he declared he answered questions “perfectly” about the deadly August 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Va., that were spawned by white supremacist groups rallying there. He claimed his comment that there were “good” people on both sides — a counter-protester was killed — was spot on, saying he was referring to the pro-white protesters who opposed taking down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“People were there protesting the taking down of the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general, everybody knows that,” Trump said.
Several Democratic presidential candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, have sharply criticized Trump for that remark. Biden made the Charlottesville violence and Trump’s reaction a central part of his Thursday campaign kick-off video.
Watch – Trump on Mueller report: ‘Nothing wrong with firing’
“I see what you get when you fire people. I never told McGahn to fire Mueller,” the president told reporters on the South Lawn as he left the White House for a speech at a NRA conference in Indianapolis.
But, the ever-defiant Trump, mindful of the Mueller report suggesting his attempts to remove Mueller could lead lawmakers to conclude it was an attempt to obstruct justice, also claimed this: “We had the absolute right to. I’m a student of history.”
“If I wanted to fire Mueller, I would have done it myself,” the president said. “I had the right to.”
Since the Mueller report was released in redacted form, the president, top White House aides and external surrogates have denied that Trump ever demanded Mueller be fired.
But the special counsel interviewed former White House Counsel Don McGahn for over 30 hours. And the former White House lead attorney provided details of what he claims were direct orders to oust Mueller.
“On Saturday, June 17, 2017, the President called McGahn and directed him to have the Special Counsel removed,” according to the report, citing the Mueller team’s interviews with McGahn, who left the White House last fall.
“In interviews with this Office, McGahn recalled that the President called him at home twice and on both occasions directed him to call [Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein] and say that Mueller had conflicts that precluded him from serving as Special Counsel,” the Mueller report said.
McGahn told the special counsel’s team that Trump told him to “‘Call Rod, tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can’t be the Special Counsel.’”
McGahn admitted that the exchanges left him “worn down” and during the second call he “just wanted to get off the phone.” He said he felt “trapped,” and eventually informed Trump’s chief of staff at the time, Reince Priebus, he planned to step down.
Why? Because he had grown uncomfortable with Trump asking him to do “crazy shit,” according to testimony Priebus gave to Mueller’s team. Ultimately, McGahn was talked out of quitting by Priebus and others.
The president also weighed in on Biden jumping into the 2020 presidential race, saying, “I think we beat him easily.” But head-to-head polls show Biden leading a hypothetical Trump-Biden general election.
In a swipe at Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Trump said the Democratic 2020 field is “making me look very young, both in terms of age, and I think in terms of energy.”
“I’m so young. … I am a young, vibrant man,” said the 72-year-old POTUS. Biden is 76-years-old and Sanders is 77-years-old; Trump considers both legitimate threats in a potential general election fight.
Meantime, the president broke with some conservatives who are anti-vaccine amid a Measles outbreak.
“They have to get their shots,” he said. “It’s very important.”