White House officials have for months categorically denied that President Donald Trump was considering the removal of Robert Mueller, but news reports Thursday claim the president went so far as giving the order to fire the special counsel in June.
The New York Times, which first reported the news, revealed that the president only backed down from removing Mueller, who is leading the Russia investigation, after White House counsel Donald McGahn III threatened to resign. The special counsel found out about the attempt to fire him “in recent months,” the Times wrote. The Washington Post echoed the Times’ reporting, saying it had independently confirmed from sources the claims about Trump wanting to terminate Mueller.
But Trump surrogates and White House officials have repeatedly rejected the idea.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway defended the president on ABC’s “This Week” in early August and denied the special counsel was at risk. When host George Stephanopoulos asked whether the president would commit to not fire Mueller, Conway said “the president has not even discussed that. He’s not discussing firing Bob Mueller.”
Trump has repeatedly called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt,” insisting that there was no evidence of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign in the lead up the 2016 election.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has reiterated Trump’s position during multiple press briefings, but has also denied that there was talk of firing Mueller.
“For the 1,000th time, we have no intentions of firing Bob Mueller,” Sanders told Fox News in December. “We are continuing to work closely and cooperating with him. We look forward to seeing this hoax wrap up soon.”
Speaking to NBC News just days before that, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said, “There’s no conversation about that in the White House whatsoever.”
Trump’s lawyers who are dealing with the president’s response to Mueller’s investigation have said the same thing.
White House lawyer Jay Sekulow told CNN in October, “The president is not interfering with special counsel Mueller’s position, he’s not firing the special counsel. He’s said that before.”
White House lawyer Ty Cobb, who has coordinated communications with Mueller’s office for Trump, said something similar. “As the White House has repeatedly and emphatically said for months, there is no consideration at the White House of terminating the special counsel,” Cobb said in a statement to The Hill.