President Trump last June ordered the firing of Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, the New York Times reported Thursday evening.
Trump backed off when his White House counsel, Don McGahn, responded he would quit rather than carry out the order, advising senior White House officials the firing would be “catastrophic,” the NYT said, citing four unnamed people it reported had been told of the matter.
Trump insisted Mueller had three conflicts of interest: he had quit one of Trump’s golf clubs over fees; the law firm at which Mueller once worked used to represent Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and Mueller had interviewed for the FBI chief job.
Mueller learned about the incident months later, as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials as part of his probe into whether Trump obstructed justice, the NYT reported.
The report blew up the cable news landscape.
Famed WaPo Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, speaking on CNN, called it a “stunning and huge story” that “shows once again this president, at all costs, does not want this [investigation] to go forward, is terrified of where this is going.” The New York Times report should be a turning point, Bernstein said, in which Republicans now demand the investigation move forward “without interference, or obstructions, undermining and demeaning.”
Probably not going to play out that way, based on the reax to NYT’s report over at Trump’s network of choice, Fox News Channel.
“These are anonymous sources?” Trump pal Sean Hannity asked FNC’s chief national correspondent Ed Henry of the NYT reporting, like he meant it to sting.
“I’m sure the president did look at conflicts of interest – as he should! Absolutely legitimate!” Hannity barked. “Just like it’s legitimate to say, ‘Who d you vote for?’ – and the media tries to make the biggest deal over that.”
Hannity was referencing this week’s WaPo report that Trump asked acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to tell him who he voted for in the 2016 election. The question came in an Oval Office meeting just after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and McCabe was named acting director.
Hannity wasn’t done speaking his mind about the NYT report and its co-author, Maggie Haberman.
“Remember last June, anonymous sources, wasn’t it Maggie Haberman and other New York Times reporters telling us that the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would be long gone by now?” Hannity scoffed. “And haven’t we had a number of these Washington Post/New York Times stories end up being debunked with their phony anonymous sourcing?”
FNC Gregg Jarrett took that one: “Yeah, these are not reliable reporters.”
“BTW,” Jarrett continued, “there have been innumerable stories over the last several months that Trump wanted to fire Mueller. And I would, too, if I were president! Mueller had not one, but two conflicts of interest.”
Last June, Mueller was one month into his investigation, a probe that was set into motion when Trump fired Comey. Trump was in a swivet about Mueller at that time, tweeting aggressively to attack him. When not going after Mueller, Trump would take a pop at early supporter/Attorney General Jeff Sessions for having recused himself from the whole Russia meddling matter.
June also was the month Judy Woodruff interviewed Trump pal/Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy and asked if Trump thought Mueller should not be conducting his investigation, and was Trump prepared to let Mueller go?
“I think he’s considering perhaps terminating the special counsel,” Ruddy agreed, saying the president was “weighing that option,” and adding, “I personally think it would be a very significant mistake.”
Appearing on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC program Thursday night, the NYT report’s other co-author, Michael Schmidt, noted the White House responded to that Ruddy interview back then, saying Ruddy’s remarks were not true.
Back then, Trump had a different legal team with a much more adversarial approach, Haberman noted on CNN.
The NYT report comes two days after White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders got asked at her press briefing why Trump doesn’t fire Mueller. She said the White House wants to see the investigation come “to complete and full conclusion,” adding, “I think we all know what everybody in this room would do if the president did that and I don’t think that’s helpful to the process.”
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.