Published by The Lawfare Institute
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The New York Times reported Thursday evening that President Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June and was only dissuaded when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than transmit the order to the Justice Department. Mueller has reportedly become aware of the attempt to dismiss him in the course of investigating possible obstruction of justice by Trump and his associates.
According to the Times, Trump claimed that multiple conflicts of interests disqualified Mueller from overseeing the Russia investigation—including a fee dispute with a Trump golf club, his prior firm’s representation of Jared Kushner, and the fact that Trump had interviewed Mueller to potentially again become FBI director the day before he was appointed as special counsel. In May, career Justice Department ethics officials formally cleared Mueller to lead the probe, determining that he did not have disqualifying conflicts. In a follow-up story, the Washington Post reports that McGahn “did not deliver his resignation threat directly to Trump, but was serious about his threat to leave.”
The Times also noted that Trump considered firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, in order to place Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand in charge of the investigation.
At the time Trump ordered Mueller’s firing, he was still represented by his longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz, who took an adversarial approach to the Russia investigation. Reportedly, Trump’s new counsel, Ty Cobb, has convinced the president that “the quickest way to clear the cloud of suspicion was to cooperation with Mr. Mueller, not to fire him.” Nevertheless, the Times reports that Trump has wavered in the intervening months over the decision to fire Mueller and that in his public comments on the subject Trump has kept open the possibility of dismissing Mueller.
A few observations:
First, the Times’s reporting demonstrates just how out of control the president had become in June, less than a month after firing James Comey as FBI director. A few of his tweets from that time offer a stark reminder that the special counsel’s investigation—and Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller—weighed heavily even in his public statements:
You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history - led by some very bad and conflicted people! #MAGA— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2017