Trump ‘tried to sack Russia inquiry chief’
Washington, Jan. 26 (IANS): US President Donald Trump ordered the firing of Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, last June but ultimately backed down after his White House counsel threatened to resign over the move, a media report said.
After receiving the President’s order to sack Mueller, White House counsel Donald McGahn refused to ask the Justice Department to dismiss the special counsel, saying he would quit instead, the New York Times reported on Thursday citing people familiar with the matter.
However, Trump denied the report on Friday when asked about it during the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos, where he is due to give a speech later.
“Fake News. Typical New York Times. Fake Stories,” Trump told reporters.
According to the Times, McGahn told senior White House officials that firing Mueller would have a “catastrophic effect” on Trump’s presidency. He also told officials that Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own. The President then backed off.
McGahn, a long time Republican campaign finance lawyer in Washington who served on the Federal Election Commission, was the top lawyer on Trump’s campaign. He has been involved in nearly every key decision the President has made — like the firing of former FBI Director James Comey – that was being scrutinized by Mueller.
The White House counsel was also concerned that firing Mueller would incite more questions about whether the Trump campaign was trying to obstruct the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, CNN reported.
The President and Russia have repeatedly denied the accusation.
Mueller, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director, was appointed special counsel last May to look into the collusion allegations.
The special counsel learned of his near-dismissal in recent months, while his team interviewed past and present White House officials, the Times reported.
“We decline to comment out of respect for the Office of the Special Counsel and its process,” White House lawyer Ty Cobb said.
Two people told the Times that Trump expressed concern over three possible conflicts of interest, including a dispute Mueller had involving the Trump National Golf Club, the law firm Mueller previously had worked at acted for the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and the fact that Mueller had recently been interviewed to head the FBI.
The discussion over Mueller’s potential conflicts of interest in June 2017 arose following reports that Mueller was looking into a possible obstruction of justice case.
Reacting to the Times’ story, Democratic Senator Mark Warner on the Senate Intelligence Committee said: “Firing the special counsel is a red line that the President cannot cross.”
Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci dismissed the report on Thursday, calling it “totally irrelevant”.
On Wednesday, Trump said he was “looking forward” to being interviewed by Mueller in the investigation into the alleged Russian meddling. “I would do it under oath,” he said.