President Donald Trump ordered the firing of Russia special counsel Robert Mueller last June but backed off after White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign, The New York Times reported Thursday night.
The Times cited "four people told of the matter" in its report. "They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a continuing investigation," per the Times.
Mueller "learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials in his inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice," the Times reported.
Trump also "considered" firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who hired Mueller last May after the president dismissed FBI Director James Comey.
He then would have promoted Rachel Brand, the No. 3 at the Justice Department, to oversee Mueller, the Times reported.
Rosenstein has managed the investigation since March, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself.
Ty Cobb, President Trump's personal lawyer, told the Times in a statement: "We decline to comment out of respect for the Office of the Special Counsel and its process."
According to the Times, Trump built his case for dismissing Mueller on "three conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation."
President Trump first claimed a 2011 fee dispute with the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, had led Mueller to resign his membership.
Mueller was FBI director at the time of the disagreement.
Trump then contended Mueller could not be objective because he had recently served at law firm that had once represented the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a top White House adviser.
Further, the president argued Mueller had been interviewed to return as head FBI director the day before Rosenstein named him to head the Moscow probe.
Once McGahn received Trump's termination order, he refused to follow through with the Justice Department — "saying he would quit instead," the Times reported.
He disagreed with President Trump's arguments and "told senior White House officials that firing Mr. Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Mr. Trump's presidency."
McGahn also told White House officials that "Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own," the Times reported.
President Trump then relented.
Trump told White House reporters Wednesday that "I'm looking forward" to interviewing with Mueller in the coming weeks in the Moscow investigation but would follow the advice of his lawyers.
"There has been no collusion whatsoever, there has been no obstruction whatsoever," Trump said.
"I would do it under oath, absolutely."
When asked whether he believed Mueller would be fair to him, President Trump responded: "We're going to find out."
But Cobb walked backed Trump's remarks, telling the Times later Wednesday the president had spoken hurriedly with reporters.
"He's ready to meet with them," Cobb said of Mueller's team, "but he'll be guided by the advice of his personal counsel."
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