Trump demanded Mueller be fired, but backed off after White House counsel refused: Report

White House counsel McGhan said he would resign rather than execute firing.

ByABC News
January 26, 2018, 5:02 AM

— -- President Donald Trump ordered the firing of Robert Mueller last June, but he retracted his demand after White House counsel Donald F. McGhan II said he would resign from his post rather than execute the president's order, The New York Times reported Thursday night.

McGahn refused to ask the Department of Justice to fire Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, because he felt it would it fuel the perception that the White House was attempting to obstruct the Russia investigation, the Times reported.

Trump denied the report on Friday morning as he arrived at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, responding to reporters' shouted questions by calling it "fake news."

"Fake news, folks. Fake news," Trump said. "Typical New York Times fake stories."

When contacted by ABC News, special counsel spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment on the Times' story.

Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer leading the response to the investigation, told ABC News, "We decline to comment out of respect for the Office of the Special Counsel and its process."

Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement in response to The New York Times report:

"I’ve said it before, and I am saying it again: firing the Special Counsel is a red line that the President cannot cross," Warner said. "Any attempt to remove the Special Counsel, pardon key witnesses, or otherwise interfere in the investigation, would be a gross abuse of power, and all members of Congress, from both parties, have a responsibility to our Constitution and to our country to make that clear immediately."

As ABC News reported in June, Chris Ruddy, a longtime friend of President Trump and the CEO of the conservative media company Newsmax, told "PBS NewsHour" in a June 12 interview (video below) that the president was "considering, perhaps, terminating the special counsel, he’s weighing that option."

Ruddy told ABC News at the time that he stood by his comments that the president was considering asking Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to terminate Mueller. "Trump is definitely considering it ... it's not something that’s being dismissed," Ruddy said.

That notion was dismissed hours after Ruddy's PBS interview by senior White House aides, who said that Ruddy does not speak for the president, but it was not met with a denial. However, then-Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters the following day, on June 13, that "while the president has the right to [fire Mueller], he has no intention to do so."

And then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement at the time, "Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the president regarding this issue. With respect to this subject, only the president or his attorneys are authorized to comment."

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