At the Davos conference in Switzerland, President Donald Trump denied the New York Times account that he ordered the firing of Special Counsel in June but was prevented by doing so when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign. It is a highly disturbing allegation since such an act would have been catastrophic for the Trump Administration. Now however President Trump is denying the story — responding to reporters with “fake news, fake news.” What is curious is that the White House and particularly the White House Counsel did not deny the story.
If this story is false, it would be major news in its own right. It would be a hit job from a major media organization. Conversely, if the story is true, the President’s denial would magnify the concerns over his judgment and veracity. The matter can be put to rest by Don McGahn.
Notably, Mueller was appointed late May and, on June 14, 2017, the Washington Post reported that Mueller’s office is also investigating President Trump personally for possible obstruction of justice. According to this report, Trump wanted to fire a special counsel who was investigating him for obstruction, That is different from Comey who reportedly told Trump that he was not under investigation.
Does the order constitute obstruction of justice? No. Trump had grounds to object to Mueller’s appointment and his firing did not necessarily mean that Trump would fire any Special Counsel. Mueller had just started and, if the President would have accepted another Special Counsel, he can claim that he was not obstructing the investigation. However, it obviously fits an opposing narrative after Trump unwisely terminated Comey in the midst of the investigation. Timing can be everything in the law. Trump could have fired Comey when he came into office without much controversy. He could also have fired him after the conclusion of the Russian investigation (which likely would have been concluded faster absent the firing of Comey).
The White House will not put this controversy to rest with a mantra of fake news. McGahn is going to have to be heard if they want to end the story. They could then go on the offensive if the story is untrue. If not, we could see a serious fight over executive privilege brewing over what happened in the Oval Office. Mueller can get this information because it is arguably material to the obstruction investigation. Many in Congress however will likely demand confirmation of McGahn account and whether he did threaten to resign to prevent this order from being carried out.