While in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, the president responded to a New York Times article reporting that he tried firing the special counsel in charge of overseeing the Russia investigation. On Friday, Trump denied ever trying to fire Robert Mueller and bashed the report as "fake news."
The president said, "Fake News. Typical New York Times. Fake Stories," and, well, that was that. The initial Times report, written by Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, was published on Thursday and is based on information provided by an anonymous "four people told of the matter." According to the outlet's sources, White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II, who also served as a lawyer on Trump's campaign, was reportedly the one who stopped the president from ousting Mueller back in June. McGahn threatened to quit, the sources say, after Trump demanded that he ask the Justice Department to give Mueller the boot. Ultimately, supposedly not wanting to call the shot himself, Trump backed off of the issue altogether. According to CNN, though, McGahn reportedly did not directly tell Trump he would resign.
Ty Cobb, a lawyer who manages the relationship between the White House and Mueller, released a statement to the Times, saying, "We decline to comment out of respect for the Office of the Special Counsel and its process."
Though the Times was one of the first to claim that Trump did try firing Mueller, there have been suspicions for quite some time. In fact, Trump has tried squashing them repeatedly, as Friday wasn't the first time he's denied wanting to fire the Russia investigation special counsel (Trump and Russia have denied colluding to help Trump win the 2016 presidential election).
"That's never been on the table, never,'' chief counsel John Dowd told USA Today back in August when asked if Trump had ever considered ousting Mueller. "It's a manifestation of the media. My dealings with Bob Mueller have always been cordial, respectful — the way it should be."
Then, in December, as CNN noted, Trump again tried convincing the public that the possibility had never crossed his mind. He did, however, criticize Mueller's choice to obtain thousands of emails sent by members of Trump's transition team, making his opinion of the special counsel loud and clear. Said Trump:
I can't imagine there's anything on (the emails), frankly, because as we said, there's no collusion. No collusion whatsoever. But a lot of lawyers thought that was pretty sad.
In fact, Trump has been pretty adamant about his stance on the Russia investigation. According to him, it simply isn't necessary.
On Oct. 29, he called it a "witch hunt" and attempted to draw attention to supposed Democratic scandals instead. He wrote:
Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?),....
...the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more. Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia,....
..."collusion," which doesn't exist. The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R's...
Now, it'll be interesting to see whether or not Trump's supporters believe his denial of reports that he tried firing Mueller. Sean Hannity, for example, swiftly denied the original Times report. "They're trying to change the story," he said. "At this hour, The New York Times is trying to distract you."
However, it wasn't long before we walked back on his statements. "All right, so we have sources tonight just confirming ... that yeah, maybe Donald Trump wanted to fire the special counsel for a conflict," he conceded. "Does he not have the right to raise those questions?"
Ultimately, Trump might need more than a "fake news!" dismissal to convince people he's in the clear.