“I am very excited about the person who will be taking the place of Don McGahn as White House Councel!” Trump tweeted. “I liked Don, but he was NOT responsible for me not firing Bob Mueller or Jeff Sessions. So much Fake Reporting and Fake News!”
What’s clear is that Trump protests too much. What’s less clear — but also potentially troublesome — is the idea that he just admitted he tried to fire both men.
First off, Trump is denying something that doesn’t really exist, at least in Sessions’s case. There have been reports that McGahn threatened to resign when Trump ordered Mueller’s firing. But The Washington Post’s report this week on Trump rekindling the idea of firing Sessions made no mention of McGahn. It instead said that Trump’s lawyers convinced him not to move forward with that right now. McGahn is one of Trump’s lawyers, but Trump has many.
Perhaps Trump assumed the story was referring to McGahn, given McGahn was a central figure in the reporting on the attempted Mueller firings, but Trump is denying a new report that doesn’t explicitly exist. (It’s also possible he thought about McGahn because McGahn was, in fact, involved in whatever discussions took place about Sessions.)
But did Trump just cop to trying to fire both men? This has been something Trump appeared to deny in the past, especially with regard to Mueller. “Fake news, folks. Fake news,” Trump declared in January when the New York Times reported on McGahn’s resignation threat in June 2017. Trump also denied trying to fire Mueller a second time in December 2017, when that incident was reported in April.
So it would be big if he suddenly acknowledged that he did try to fire Mueller and/or Sessions. Trump didn’t necessarily say “It didn’t happen” — he instead just offered a more general “fake news” denial — but the impression left is clear.
In Thursday’s tweet, it is noteworthy that Trump didn’t quibble with the premise that he tried to fire either or both men. You’d think a guy who disputes that would again do so. It’s tempting to think he just let something slip — as he apparently did in the Lester Holt interview about James B. Comey’s firing, in that tweet about Michael Flynn’s firing, in the Trump Tower tweet, and in his recent interview about stripping John Brennan’s security clearance.
By saying McGahn “was NOT responsible for me not firing Bob Mueller or Jeff Sessions,” it suggests either someone else was responsible or that Trump came to the conclusion himself, even if Trump didn’t explicitly admit that he did. It suggests Trump doesn’t like the perception that McGahn forced his hand.
At the same time, it would have been even clearer if Trump had said something to the effect of, “It wasn’t Don that was responsible for me not firing Bob Mueller or Jeff Sessions.” That would have made it clearer that he did consider it. As it stands, it’s not a clear admission.
All of this undoubtedly leaves a perception that Trump wants people to have — that Trump can and might fire both men — to send a message to Mueller and Sessions. Trump has made clear he views this as his presidential prerogative. But it’s also something that’s likely to be of interest to Mueller in the obstruction of justice investigation, which reportedly has examined Trump’s efforts to fire Mueller himself.