The rumors and scuttlebutt about President Trump’s intentions for Robert Mueller—will or won’t he fire the special counsel—have been known for months, but, the New York Times reports, Trump actually ordered White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire the head of the Russia investigation before backing down after McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the order. The Times says it confirmed the story with four sources that were told about the attempted sacking. Mueller’s investigative team, which is increasingly thought to be focusing on possible obstruction of justice by the president, was already aware of the presidential directive to dismiss the special counsel.
From the Times:
After receiving the president’s order to fire Mr. 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. Mr. 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. The president then backed off.
Part of McGahn’s issue with firing Mueller, the Times notes, was that it would project the appearance of guilt on the part of White House. Trump also considered firing deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein who appointed Mueller as special counsel last May after Jeff Sessions recused himself for all things relating to the Russia investigation. With Rosenstein potentially out of the way, the White House wanted Rachel Brand, third-in-charge at the Justice Department, to oversee the investigation, according to the Times.