WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday he never directed former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, disputing McGahn’s sworn testimony that the president had pressed him to oust the special counsel.
“I never told then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, even though I had the legal right to do so,” Trump tweeted. “If I wanted to fire Mueller, I didn’t need McGahn to do it, I could have done it myself. Nevertheless, Mueller was NOT fired and was respectfully allowed to finish his work on what I, and many others, say was an illegal investigation.”
The president’s assertions came as Democrats continued to call on McGahn to testify before the House Oversight Committee about the hours of testimony and notes he provided to the special counsel. McGahn’s recollection of his conversations with Trump and other senior White House officials were cited at length in the redacted version of Mueller’s final report, released last week.
McGahn, who was subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee earlier this week, told the special counsel’s office that on June 17, 2017 — one month after Mueller was appointed to his role — Trump called McGahn at home and told him to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to terminate Mueller, citing conflicts of interests.
“McGahn recalled the president telling him 'Mueller has to go' and 'call me back when you do it,'” the report says.
McGahn refused to carry out Trump’s order and threatened to quit over the directive.
"McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre,” the report said in reference to former President Richard Nixon’s effort to fire Archibald Cox, the independent special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation.
The Mueller report says Trump’s call for Mueller to be fired came as news reports emerged that Mueller was expanding the scope of his probe to examine whether Trump attempted to obstruct the Justice Department’s Russia probe by firing former FBI Director James Comey in May 2017.
In January 2018, after news reports said Trump had asked McGahn to seek Mueller’s termination, Trump summoned McGahn to the Oval Office and insisted he never told him to fire Mueller, according to McGahn’s account in the Mueller report.
The president called on McGahn to issue a public statement disputing the news reports. But McGahn defended the reports as “accurate” and rejected Trump’s numerous requests to dispute the news reports, according to the Mueller report.
The report says Trump directed former White House staff secretary Rob Porter to “tell McGahn to create a record to make clear that the President never directed McGahn to fire the Special Counsel. McGahn shrugged off the request, explaining that the media reports were true.”
Mueller’s investigators considered whether McGahn might have misinterpreted Trump’s directive, but concluded he had not.
“The president’s assertion in the Oval Office meeting that he had never directed McGahn to have the special counsel removed thus runs counter to the evidence,” Mueller wrote.
The special counsel, originally tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, said investigators could not establish evidence Trump or his campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russians.
But Mueller stopped short of answering whether Trump obstructed justice, citing a Justice Department policy that bars the indictment of a sitting president.
Attorney General William Barr ultimately concluded there was “not sufficient” evidence “to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”