By MICHAEL D. SHEAR and ELISABETH BUMILLER
© 2018 New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday denied that he had ordered the firing of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in the Russia probe, but then backed off. The president called reports of the June incident “fake news.”
Trump responded to The Times report during a trip to Davos, Switzerland, where he is attending the World Economic Forum, a gathering of world leaders and global business executives.
Upon arrival at the Congress Center in Davos, Trump was greeted by a scrum of the forum’s participants snapping cellphone photos and by a large group of reporters asking why he had ordered Mueller’s firing.
“Fake news, folks,” Trump replied. “Fake news. A typical New York Times fake story.”
The Times report was based on four people who were told of the matter. On Thursday, Ty Cobb, who manages the White House relationship with Mueller’s office, declined to comment.
The June incident could emerge as an important part of Mueller’s probe, part of which is looking into whether Trump or anyone in the White House or associated with his campaign obstructed justice by trying to impede investigators looking into the possibility of campaign-related collusion with Russia.
Trump’s order to fire Mueller came in the month after the president did fire the FBI Director James B. Comey, later citing the Russia probe as the reason for his decision. At the time, Comey was in charge of the FBI’s investigation into collusion with Russia. The firing of Comey in May directly led to Mueller’s appointment.
Trump’s denial of the June incident echoes repeated statements by the president and other White House officials that Trump had never considered firing the special prosecutor.
“I haven’t given it any thought,” Trump told reporters in August. “I mean, I’ve been reading about it from you people. You say, oh, I’m going to dismiss him. No, I’m not dismissing anybody.”