In the latest reminder of the contentious relationship between President Trump and the man who is probing him for
"Russian collusion" obstruction, Special Counsel Mueller, the NYT reports that according to four sources, Trump ordered the firing of Mueller last June, however - since Mueller is still clearly employed - the president backed off after White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive.
And as has always been the case with this particular set of FBI or NSA sources, the WaPo was right there behind the NYT, to confirm the latest Trump leak:
Confirmed that Trump wanted Mueller fired, as NYT first reported, w/@PostRoz. Story coming soon.— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) January 26, 2018
This is notable because "the West Wing confrontation marks the first time Mr. Trump is known to have tried to fire the special counsel" and "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."
Whether or not Mueller incorporates Trump's alleged intent into his investigation - after all it is hardly a secret that Trump wanted Mueller removed -will likely be unveiled in the coming days. As for Trump's stated motive to get rid off Mueller just one month after his investigation launched last May, the NYT reports that Trump listed three conflicts of interest that disqualified the FBI veteran from overseeing the investigation amid reports saying the special counsel was examining a possible obstruction case, even though the underlying motive was alleged collusion with Russia:
- First, Trump cited a "dispute years ago over fees at Trump National golf club;"
- Second, the fact that he was working at the same law firm that "previously represented the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner."
- Third, the fact that Mueller had interviewed to be FBI director shortly before being appointed special counsel.
What happened then? Upon hearing of Trump's intention to tell Mueller "You're fired", White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, reportedly refused to ask the DOJ to dismiss the special counsel, saying he would quit instead.
McGahn disagreed with the president’s case and told senior White House officials that firing Mr. Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Mr. Trump’s presidency. Mr. McGahn also told White House officials that Mr. Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own.
McGahn was also concerned that firing the special counsel would incite more questions about whether the White House was trying to obstruct the Russia investigation.
Trump then backed off.
As the NYT also adds, another option that Trump considered was dismissing the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, and elevating the department’s No. 3 official, Rachel Brand, to oversee Mr. Mueller. Mr. Rosenstein has overseen the investigation since March, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself.
While Trump has eased back on his direct attacks on Mueller since hiring Ty Cobb, who manages the White House’s relationship with Mr. Mueller’s office, Trump has wavered for months about whether he wants to fire Mueller, whose job security is an omnipresent concern among the president’s legal team and close aides.
The president’s lawyers, including Mr. Cobb, have tried to keep Mr. Trump calm by assuring him for months, amid new revelations about the inquiry, that it is close to ending.
While it remains to be seen if Trump's concern that Mueller is out to get him is justified - and based on the recent text message revelations that key FBI agents were notably biased against him one can easily make that case - or if there was indeed "collusion with Russia", an investigation which has since shifted to one looking at the monetary dealings of Trump and his close circle, as well as "obstruction", just yesterday Trump told reporters that he is "looking forward" to speaking with Mueller under oath, at which point he will tell the investigator that there was "no collusion."
And, following today's Bloomberg report that Mueller's obstruction probe is set to wrap up much faster than anticipated, not only will the Trump questioning likely take place in the immediate future, but Mueller's findings will soon be unveiled.
In the meantime, a parallel inquiry is taking place, one in which the DOJ is investigating just how tainted the FBI's own probe of Trump may have been all along, and/or whether James Comey and Loretta Lynch interfered to mitigate the FBI's inquiry into Hillary Clinton's email server.
The bottom line is that the upcoming showdown between Trump and the "deep state", in which both sides are investigating each other, will likely be epic.
In the meantime, keep an eye on Trump's twitter account, and whether the president decides to fire Mueller, only for real this time. After all, few are capable of getting Twitter Trump so furious like the NYT.