President Donald Trump is challenging his former White House counsel’s testimony to Robert Mueller, asserting that he never even so much as suggested firing the special counsel.
In an interview with ABC News, the president suggested that Don McGahn told Mueller of Trump’s supposed directive that he be fired in order to save face.
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“The story on that very simply, No. 1, I was never going to fire Mueller. I never suggested firing Mueller,” Trump said.
Pressed on why McGahn would have told Mueller’s team during his more than 30 hours of voluntary interviews of the multiple times the president sought to have the special counsel removed, Trump pushed back.
“I don’t care what he says, it doesn’t matter,” he argued. “That was to show everyone what a good counsel he was.”
McGahn, who left the White House last fall, is a key witness in the portion of Mueller’s final report on whether the president obstructed justice.
According to the report, Trump asked McGahn to inform then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that Mueller was too conflicted to serve as special counsel, just days after media reports revealed that the special counsel was looking into whether Trump obstructed justice and for the first time was personally a target of the investigation. McGahn said he took this to mean Trump was asking him to remove Mueller from the investigation.
McGahn declined to fire Mueller, instead threatening to resign rather than do so, putting him in the company of numerous other presidential aides who shut down Trump’s attempts to thwart the investigation.
Trump and his aides have sought to cast doubt on McGahn’s account in the aftermath of the release of the report, even as they’ve defended Trump’s right to oust Mueller. The former White House counsel’s testimony was backed up by the contemporaneous notes of his chief of staff, but the White House has blocked both McGahn and his aide from testifying further to House Democrats, citing executive privilege.
Asked why McGahn would lie under oath, Trump again offered only a theory.
“Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer,” the president said. “Or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen — including you, including the media — that Robert Mueller was conflicted. Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest.”
“And has to go?” Stephanopoulos responded.
“I didn’t say that,” Trump shot back.
The president also defended not testifying in person for Mueller. Though he submitted written responses to the special counsel’s questions, his legal team feared that the freewheeling, hyperbole-slinging president might perjure himself during a face-to-face interview.
Challenged on the fact that he didn’t answer any questions pertaining to his potential obstruction of the probe — for which Mueller laid out evidence but did not make a final determination — Trump did not answer, but chastised Stephanopoulos for being a “little wise guy.”