There is a narrative forming about the Mueller report. It says President Trump would be in a lot more trouble right now if those around him actually did what he told them to do. By essentially ignoring the boss on potentially obstructive acts, the narrative holds, these aides may have saved Trump from himself.
Needless to say, this is not the kind of narrative a proud man like Trump prefers. So, he did what he always does on stuff like this: Deny it, no matter how ridiculous that denial might be.
“Nobody disobeys my orders,” Trump assured Monday morning at the White House Easter Egg Roll.
How wrong he is. Let us count the ways.
The Mueller report includes many instances of aides declining to carry out Trump’s orders; The Washington Post’s James Hohmann recapped them on Friday. But it’s worth running through which ones actually involved orders that aides disobeyed. (For the purposes of this post, we’re not including mere suggestions, such as when Trump pressured then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself and when Trump urged then-FBI Director James B. Comey to take it easy on Michael Flynn.)
Toward the bottom of the list, we have also added previously known incidents of top aides declining to carry out Trump’s orders.
- White House counsel Donald McGahn: Declined to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to fire Mueller.
- Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski: Declined to apply pressure on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of the Russia probe.
- Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn: Declined to give Sessions a typed note Lewandowski gave him relaying the president’s message.
- Staff secretary Rob Porter: Declined Trump’s request to ask the No. 3-ranking official at the Justice Department, Rachel Brand, whether she wanted to be attorney general and take oversight of the Russia probe.
- Transition team leader Chris Christie: Declined to call FBI Director James B. Comey and tell him that Trump liked him.
- Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein: Declined to do a news conference after Comey’s firing saying it was his idea.
- Deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland: Declined to write an internal email stating Trump hadn’t told national security adviser Michael Flynn to talk during the presidential transition to the Russian ambassador about sanctions.
- Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats: Declined Trump’s request to say there was no link between the Trump campaign and Russia.
- Acting Attorney General Dana Boente: According to McGahn, Boente declined Trump’s request to state publicly that Trump wasn’t under investigation. (Boente said he didn’t recall this conversation.)
- Chief of Staff Reince Priebus: Declined to get Sessions to resign.
- Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn: Along with Porter, prevented Trump from pulling out of trade deals by pulling papers off his desk.
- Chief of Staff John F. Kelly: Along with Cohn, declined to lobby the Justice Department to prevent the AT&T-Time Warner merger.
- Defense Secretary Jim Mattis: Declined Trump’s request to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
- Mattis: Declined Trump’s request to provide military options for Iran.
- Unnamed officials: Ignored Trump’s directive to not endorse an agreement reached at the G-7 Summit.
That’s at least 15 instances of people declining to carry out significant requests from Trump — ones that involved war, people who needed to be independent of the White House and also misleading or false public statements about issues of importance. Among those reportedly ignoring Trump have been two chiefs of staff, a defense secretary (twice), other top Cabinet officials and two people who were at the time overseeing the Russia investigation.