WASHINGTON ― White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short joined the list of administration officials disputing reports that President Donald Trump wanted to fire the man leading the Russia investigation.
“I’m not aware of the president ever intimating he wanted to fire” special counsel Robert Mueller, Short said on “Fox News Sunday.”
According to a recent New York Times report, Trump ordered that Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the Department of Justice’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, be fired last June. But the president backed off once the White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign, the Times reported.
Trump has denied the story, calling it “fake news.”
Short, in his Sunday comments, said he’s unsure what Trump would do if Congress passed a bill to protect the status of the special counsel, which would make it harder ― or almost impossible ― for the president to try to remove Mueller.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) noted on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump cannot directly fire Mueller. He would have to pressure deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein to do so.
She said that at a Senate hearing last year, she questioned Rosenstein “at length on this issue, and he was adamant that he would never give in to any White House pressure to remove” Mueller.
Asked about the Times story, she said, “the president had a bad idea” on firing Mueller. “He talked with his counsel, who explained to an angry and frustrated president why it was a bad idea, and that was seven months ago.”
Short was somewhat dismissive of Mueller’s probe, saying “taxpayers have spent millions and millions of dollars on investigations [that have] not proven any collusion thus far” between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.
The White House, he added, “continues to cooperate in every manner providing any document the special counsel has asked for. We have continued to comply fully.”
Still, Short said, “I know the president has been frustrated by this investigation.”
Short said that Trump’s also agitated by the unwillingness of the House Intelligence Committee to release a four-page classified memo that reportedly suggests FBI officials may have used politically motivated sourcing to justify a request for a secret surveillance warrant in the Russia probe’s early stages.
Confirming a report from The Washington Post, Short said Trump believes the memo should be made public. This is at direct odds with advice from the Justice Department, which said it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release the memo.
“Those are rational concerns,” said Short. “At the same time, I think the president is more inclined for transparency in this investigation.”