President Trump said in an interview broadcast Friday that former White House counsel Donald McGahn “may have been confused” when he told investigators that Trump had directed him to pursue the firing of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III amid his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
During the interview with ABC News, Trump issued a fresh denial of an episode detailed in Mueller’s report that House Democrats have seized upon as they examine whether Trump sought to obstruct Mueller’s probe and should be impeached.
“I don’t care what he says. It doesn’t matter,” Trump said of McGahn in the interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “I was never going to fire Mueller. I never suggested firing Mueller.”
McGahn emerged as a central witness in Mueller’s report, offering hours of interviews about several occasions when Trump ordered him to do “crazy” things, according to the special counsel’s findings. Those included trying to persuade the Justice Department to get rid of Mueller, according to the report.
Asked by Stephanopoulos why McGahn would lie under oath, Trump said: “Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer, or, or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen . . . that Robert Mueller was conflicted.”
Trump has repeatedly said that Mueller was biased as an investigator because of multiple conflicts, including a past “business dispute” with him and because Mueller asked him for a job. His claims have been disputed by multiple people familiar with his interactions with Mueller.
The House Judiciary Committee has issued a subpoena to McGahn, but so far he has declined to appear before the panel, citing a White House legal opinion that close presidential advisers cannot be compelled to testify. The full House passed a resolution this week that empowers the committee to go to court in a bid to enforce the subpoena.
During the ABC interview recorded earlier this week, Trump also defended his decision not to submit to an in-person interview with Mueller’s team. He instead submitted written answers to questions about possible coordination between his campaign and Russia.
“They were looking to get us for lies or slight misstatements,” Trump said.
Pressed by Stephanopoulos as to why he declined to answer questions about possible obstruction of justice, Trump grew testy.
“George, you’re being a little wise guy, okay — which is, you know, typical for you,” Trump said. “Just so you understand. Very simple. It’s very simple. There was no crime. There was no collusion. The big thing’s collusion. Now, there’s no collusion. That means they set —it was a setup, in my opinion, and I think it’s going to come out.”
Trump’s denial of directing McGahn to pursue Mueller’s removal echoed one of his tweets from April.
“I never told then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, even though I had the legal right to do so,” Trump said. “If I wanted to fire Mueller, I didn’t need McGahn to do it, I could have done it myself. Nevertheless, Mueller was NOT fired and was respectfully allowed to finish his work on what I, and many others, say was an illegal investigation.”