The media made him do it. Well, kind of.
The New York Times reported Thursday that President Trump tried last June to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III but backed down when White House attorney Donald F. McGahn protested the move and threatened to quit. The Washington Post later confirmed the story.
According to the Times, press coverage played a role in triggering Trump’s attempt to depose the man leading the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign.
Here’s an excerpt from the scoop by Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman:
Amid the first wave of news media reports that Mr. Mueller was examining a possible obstruction case, the president began to argue that Mr. Mueller had three conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation . . .
So what are the press accounts that set Trump off?
One is probably The Washington Post’s June 14 report that Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey one month earlier had prompted Mueller to begin probing the question of obstruction of justice. Trump dismissed Comey, who had been leading the Russia investigation, on May 9. On May 11, Trump acknowledged in an interview with NBC that he had the Russia investigation on his mind when he fired Comey.
The White House had previously said the decision to oust Comey was based on the FBI’s handling of an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.
“In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,’” Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt.
The Post reported in June that Mueller began investigating possible obstruction within days of Comey’s removal.
Trump then launched a subsequent round of obstruction-related press coverage when he explicitly confirmed the existence of an investigation that The Post had reported, based on unnamed sources.
They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2017
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017
In a dizzying turn, however, the president’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, did a tour of Sunday talk shows and disputed the notion that Trump was under investigation for possible obstruction.
On June 22, Trump finally answered a question that had lingered since he tweeted on May 12 that “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations.”
…whether there are “tapes” or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2017
In an interview on “Fox & Friends” the next morning, Trump boasted that his “tapes” bluff might have influenced Comey’s congressional testimony on June 8 — maybe not the best thing to brag about when trying to avoid any appearance of obstruction of justice.
“When he found out that I, you know, that there may be tapes out there, whether it’s governmental tapes or anything else, and who knows, I think his story may have changed,” Trump said.
“So it was a smart way to make sure he stayed honest in those hearings?” Fox News’s Ainsley Earhardt replied.
“Well, it wasn’t — it wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that,” Trump said.
That’s what was going on in the media when the president tried to give Mueller a pink slip.