On Thursday evening, The New York Times broke a bombshell story: back in June 2017, as it became clear that special counsel Robert Mueller was looking for a pattern of possible obstruction of justice in President Trump’s behavior, Trump ordered Mueller fired. He only retracted the order when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit.
According to the Times report, Trump said that Mueller had three different conflicts of interest:
- Trump said Mueller had resigned his membership at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia years ago over a dispute over membership fees;
- Trump said Mueller couldn’t be impartial because his law firm had represented Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner;
- Trump said that Mueller had been up for the FBI director position before he was appointed special counsel.
The Times reports:
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.
Trump lawyer Ty Cobb refused to comment on the report.
The story could be used by the Mueller team as yet another link in the chain of possible obstruction — if Mueller strings together the following facts, he could make the case that Trump was attempting to block the progress of the Trump-Russia collusion investigation:
- The firing of former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, which Trump has implied was prompted by Flynn lying to the FBI;
- The president reportedly asking FBI director James Comey to lay off of Flynn;
- The president’s firing of Comey, and acknowledgement publicly that it had to do with the Russia investigation;
- The president’s continuous stream of invective against Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding Sessions’ recusal in the Russia investigation;
- The president’s attacks on deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein;
- The president’s attacks on deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe;
- And now, the president’s apparent attempt to fire Mueller.
Now, none of this amounts to legal obstruction – the president is the head of the executive branch, and the investigation has not been quieted in any way, as even Comey acknowledged. But if Mueller wants to set the groundwork for a possible Democratic impeachment effort, this latest piece of the puzzle will be added to that litany.