President Trump tried to fire the man overseeing the Russia investigation last year but backed off after the chief White House lawyer threatened to quit, the New York Times reports, citing four sources who "spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a continuing investigation." The sources say that when Trump ordered the firing of Robert Mueller in June, White House Counsel Donald McGahn said he would quit before he asked the Justice Department to fire the special counsel. Trump argued that Mueller had multiple conflicts of interests, including an alleged dispute over fees that caused him to resign his membership at the Trump National Golf Club years earlier and his work at the law firm that represented Jared Kushner, the sources say.
The White House has repeatedly denied that Trump tried to fire Mueller after his investigators began looking into whether the president had obstructed justice, the Times notes. (On Friday at Davos, Trump called the new report "fake news.") Sources tell the Washington Post that before the order to McGahn, aides including Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus tried in vain to persuade Trump that firing Mueller could trigger efforts to remove him from the presidency. Republican Rep. Charlie Dent tells the Post that McGahn prevented an "Archibald Cox moment," referring to Richard Nixon's 1973 firing of the special prosecutor investigating Watergate. After the Times report, Democrats renewed their calls for legislation to protect Mueller from being fired by the president. (Trump said Wednesday that he is "looking forward" to being interviewed in the Mueller probe.)