Kellyanne Conway on Sunday refused to say whether she believes former White House counsel Don McGahn’s claim that President Donald Trump directed him to fire special counsel Robert Mueller as he investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Asked about McGahn’s claims, as stated in Mueller’s recently released report, the senior White House adviser sidestepped the question, telling ABC’s “This Week” that Trump had been “frustrated” about an “ill-conceived, illegitimate investigation.”
Host Martha Raddatz pressed Conway to answer directly whether Trump was lying when he previously denied having ordered McGahn to fire Mueller.
“If the president wanted to fire Bob Mueller, he would have,” Conway said. “In other words, he has the authority to do that. He fired [FBI Director James Comey]. He’s fired other people from the White House.”
Raddatz implored Conway to answer whether she believes McGahn’s statement that Trump tried to get him to fire Mueller, but Conway continued to deflect.
“Please answer that question, Kellyanne,” Raddatz said. “It’s the only question. It is in the Mueller report and Don McGahn said he is telling the truth under oath.”
Conway responded that she doesn’t believe “it amounts to obstruction of justice,” before Raddatz again asked whether she believes McGahn.
“I believe that Don McGahn is an honorable attorney who stayed on the job 18 months after this alleged incident took place,” Conway said, “and that if he were being asked to obstruct justice or violate the Constitution or ... help to commit a crime by the president of the United States, he wouldn’t have stayed.”
McGahn waited until October 2018 to resign after playing a key role in getting Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court.
She added: “The president was rightly frustrated and trying to, like everybody else tries to do, make an ill-conceived, illegitimate investigation ... go away.”
The investigation was launched after a Trump campaign aide told an Australian diplomat in 2016 that the Russians had dirt on Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
In January 2018, multiple media outlets reported that Trump had ordered McGahn to fire Mueller roughly seven months earlier. The president at the time denied having done so, but the special counsel’s report, a redacted version of which was released to the public on Thursday, appeared to confirm McGahn’s claims.
“On Saturday, June 17, 2017, the President called McGahn and directed him to have the Special Counsel removed,” according to Mueller’s report. “McGahn was at home and the President was at Camp David.”
In interviews with this Office, McGahn recalled that the President called him at home twice and on both occasions directed him to call [Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein] and say that Mueller had conflicts that precluded him from serving as Special Counsel.
On the first call, McGahn recalled that the President said something like, “You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod.” McGahn said he told the President that he would see what he could do. McGahn was perturbed by the call and did not intend to act on the request. ... McGahn considered the President’s request to be an inflection point and he wanted to hit the brakes.
When the President called McGahn a second time to follow up on the order to call the Department of Justice, McGahn recalled that the President was more direct, saying something like, “Call Rod, tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can’t be the Special Counsel.” McGahn recalled the President telling him “Mueller has to go” and “Call me back when you do it.“
McGahn understood the President to be saying that the Special Counsel had to be removed by Rosenstein.
McGahn told the special counsel that he threatened to resign over the directive, but stayed on when the president did not mention firing Mueller again. McGahn later resigned in October 2018.
Mueller’s report outlined Trump’s interactions with McGahn about firing the special counsel as part of the investigation into Russia and whether the president tried to obstruct justice.
Trump’s denials that he ordered McGahn to fire Mueller “are contrary to the evidence and suggest the President’s awareness that the direction to McGahn could be seen as improper,” according to Mueller’s report.
Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s personal attorneys and the former mayor of New York City, told “Fox News Sunday” that he believes there were “very good reasons” to fire Mueller.
“Had he done it, it would not have been obstruction of justice,” Giuliani claimed, adding that he believed the special counsel had hired people to help with his investigation that were “very, very questionable.”
Mueller, a registered Republican for most of his career, was a former FBI director for 12 years. His appointment to lead the Russia probe in the spring of 2017 received bipartisan praise.