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Trump Reportedly Ordered Mueller's Firing


We're focusing this morning on reports that President Trump tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last June. The New York Times broke the story, saying the president was forced to back down from this idea when the White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit because of it. In a moment, we'll get reaction from, Davos, Switzerland. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley is covering the president's visit there. First, though, we turn to NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucus in the studio this morning. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Let's start with what we know. What did President Trump ask and why?

LUCAS: Well he asked for White House counsel Don McGahn to push out Robert Mueller, the special counsel. NPR has not confirmed this. This is New York Times, The Washington Post reporting. But it basically - reports surfaced last summer that Mueller was exploring a possible obstruction of justice case, could reach into Trump's past business dealings. Trump began to argue that Mueller had a conflict of interest that should rule him out from overseeing this investigation. Talk of a golf course relationship that Mueller had and dispute over fees. This was a Trump golf course.

MARTIN: Membership fees, yeah.

LUCAS: Exactly. Mueller's worked for a law firm that represented Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law - and that Mueller had been interviewed to possibly replace James Comey. These were things that Trump saw as a possible conflict of interest.

MARTIN: All right. So at the center of all this remains this question of whether the President obstructed justice when it came to how he dismissed James Comey, right?

LUCAS: Right. A lot of this ties back into Comey, at least in our understanding of it. And the timeline is important here. Comey was fired on May 9 of 2016. Several days later, word came out about the memos that Comey kept of his interactions with the president. Comey said that the president asked him to lay off the investigation into Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. That helped prompt the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. That was on May 17.

Comey testifies in early June under oath before Congress about these interactions. So by mid-June, you know, a month after Mueller was put in the job, there were a lot of questions in the public about possible obstruction of justice. And there was a lot of word from the Hill that Mueller shouldn't be touched at this point.

MARTIN: Right. And, of course, all this happened in the summer of 2017. So does this revelation change anything about the investigation moving forward?

LUCAS: Not for the special counsel, no. He's interviewed all the key players in this episode, including Don McGahn, the White House counsel, other folks in the counsel's office and other senior White House officials. So he already knows what we're just learning. But this fits into a broader story that's basically emerged in public reports that president and senior officials were taking steps that could hamper the investigation and fit into this - all fits into kind of a broader possible obstruction of justice case.

MARTIN: All right. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
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