President Trump tried unsuccessfully to have the Justice Department fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, according to the redacted version of Mueller’s final report released Thursday.
White House Counsel Don McGahn told Mueller’s investigators that in June 2017, a month to the day after Mueller was appointed, Trump called McGahn and directed him to tell the acting attorney general “Mueller has to go,” according to the report.
McGahn refused the president’s request, later telling White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter that he had planned to resign rather than follow through on the directive. However, he said he had not told Trump specifically that he planned to quit.
Seven months later, in January 2018, Trump’s efforts to have McGahn initiate the process of terminating Mueller were splashed across the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post, frustrating the president, who called McGahn into the Oval Office for a private meeting.
“Fake news, folks. Fake news. A typical New York Times fake story,” Trump said at the time.
Trump made “repeated attempts to get McGahn to change his story,” and asked him to put out a statement and later a letter refuting the news stories, both requests McGahn refused, objecting that the media reports were correct, the Mueller report says. McGahn also “shrugged off” the idea Trump might fire him, saying “the optics would be terrible if the President followed through with firing him on that basis.”
Porter told the special counsel that he recalled Trump saying of McGahn, “If he doesn’t write a letter, then maybe I’ll have to get rid of him.” Porter added that Trump referred to McGahn as a “lying bastard” who had leaked to the press to boost his own reputation.
Trump also complained about McGahn’s interview with Mueller’s team and asked him why he had told the investigators about being directed to have the special counsel removed. He criticized McGahn’s note-taking habit as well, telling him, “Lawyers don’t take notes.”
McGahn later told the special counsel that Trump said to him, “I never said to fire Mueller. I never said ‘fire. ‘ This story doesn’t look good. You need to correct this. You’re the White House counsel.”
The president argued during the Oval Office meeting that he had meant for McGahn to raise the issue of Mueller’s conflicts of interest with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and leave the decision to Rosenstein, but McGahn responded that that was not how he had understood Trump’s directive.
“The President’s personal counsel called McGahn’s counsel and relayed that the president was ‘fine’ with McGahn” after the meeting, the report said.
“Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn’s account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President’s conduct towards the investigation,” the report concluded.