President Trump disputed in an interview the account by former White House counsel Don McGahn to Robert Mueller that the president instructed him to remove the special counsel.
McGahn “may have been confused” when he told Mueller during the probe into possible obstruction of justice that Trump ordered him multiple times to have the acting attorney general remove the special counsel due to perceived conflicts of interest, the president told ABC News.
“The story on that very simply, No. 1, I was never going to fire Mueller. I never suggested firing Mueller,” Trump told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos.
“I don’t care what (McGahn) says – it doesn’t matter,” Tump said when Stephanopoulos referred to McGahn’s testimony.
“Why would [McGahn] lie under oath?” Stephanopoulos asked later.
“Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer,” the president replied. “Or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen — including you, including the media — that Robert Mueller was conflicted. Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest.”
“And has to go?” Stephanopoulos said.
“I didn’t say that,” Trump replied.
The president has told McGahn – who spent almost 30 hours with Mueller’s team testifying under oath — to defy a subpoena to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about the Russia investigation
The committee is investigating whether the president illegally obstructed the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
It wants to question McGahn after he figured prominently in Mueller’s report about the Russia probe and whether Trump committed obstruction of justice.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone has told the committee in a letter that McGahn should not appear due to both “constitutional immunity” and “in order to protect the prerogatives of the Office of the Presidency.”
In his report, Mueller cited McGahn as saying that the president called him multiple times in June 2017 to tell him to direct the Justice Department to remove Mueller because of conflicts of interest.
McGahn later told Mueller’s investigators that the president tried to get him to dispute the accuracy of the news reports about the matter, but he refused.
In his interview, Trump also defended his decision not to sit for a face-to-face interview with Mueller’s investigators – despite earlier saying he would do so – by expressing concern that investigators wanted to set up a perjury trap.
He eventually provided written responses to questions from the investigators.
“If you answer these questions to me now, why not answer them to Robert Mueller under oath?” Stephanopoulos asked Trump.
“Because they were looking to get us for lies or slight misstatements,” Trump said. “I looked at what happened to people, and it was very unfair. Very, very unfair. Very unfair.”
Stephanopoulos then pointed out that Trump did not provide written answers to address questions of possible obstruction of justice.
“Wait a minute,” Trump said. “Wait a minute. I did answer questions. I answered them in writing.”
“Not on obstruction,” Stephanopoulos interjected.
“George, you’re being a little wise guy, OK — which is, you know, typical for you,” Trump fired back.
“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 said.
Mueller said in his report that he could not clear the president of obstruction and cited 10 examples of Trump’s behavior that he found troubling. He Mueller noted that Justice Department policy precluded him from charging a sitting president with a crime.
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