According to an explosive report from The New York Times on Thursday, President Donald Trump ordered independent counsel Robert Mueller's firing back in June, but changed his mind after White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign. The story is sourced to four people informed of the matter, and it's the first public report that Trump actually attempted to initiate Mueller's firing. Also, the report states that Mueller himself learned of Trump's attempt to have him fired through interviews with White House staffers in recent months, amid an investigation into potential obstruction of justice.
According to the report, two of the anonymous sources claim that last summer, when press reports began swirling that Mueller was investigation obstruction of justice, Trump began floating a trio of theories for why the former FBI director had unacceptable conflicts of interest. Namely, the fact that Mueller had previously worked at a law firm that represented Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, that he'd interviewed for the job of FBI director after Comey's firing, and that he'd once cancelled his membership at a Trump golf course.
McGahn, however, reportedly balked at Trump's order to fire Mueller and threatened to resign rather than carry it out. He also reportedly told members of the White House staff that he believed Trump would not go through with the firing if left to do it on his own.
This is huge news in the ongoing story of Mueller's investigation, although it's not new news to him. Although the timeline is not explicitly laid out in The New York Times' report, at some point while conducting interviews with White House staffers, Mueller became aware of Trump's attempt to fire him.
While the precise nature of Mueller's investigation is not a matter of public knowledge, it's repeatedly been reported that obstruction of justice is one possible avenue, in addition to potential money laundering, and of course, any evidence of collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government.
On Wednesday, less than 24 hours before reports of Trump's attempted firing came to light, Bloomberg quoted sources claiming that the obstruction of justice phase of Mueller's investigation might be coming to an end.
It's worth noting that there's already been a lot of apparent misinformation about the timeline and longevity of the investigation, however. In August, Trump attorney Ty Cobb suggested that Mueller's probe might be over by Thanksgiving, which didn't happen. He also said it would ought to be done by Christmas, which also did not come to pass.
Trump himself has not weighed in on the report, which isn't surprising given his location. He's currently attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the report dropped at about 2 a.m. local time. In the past, Trump has displayed a willingness, and even eagerness, to describe critical or damaging reporting about him as "fake news." It remains to be seen if that's the kind of response he'll give in this case.
Trump has also been making noise about a possible face-to-face interview with Mueller's team in the coming weeks, even going so far as to say he'd be willing to be interviewed under oath. Trump attorney John Dowd tried to tamp down those expectations on Thursday, however, telling CNN that it's his call to make, not the president's.
"I will make the decision on whether the President talks to the special counsel," Dowd reportedly said. "I have not made any decision yet."
As CNN also noted, a failure to come to an agreement about an interview with Trump could ultimately lead to subpoenas, and the convening of a grand jury to attempt to compel his testimony.