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The Special Counsel Reportedly Questioned WH Chief of Staff John Kelly about Trump’s Order to Fire Mueller


Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears to have been interested in getting to the bottom of President Donald Trump‘s apparent order to fire him.

On the day when White House Chief of Staff John Kelly‘s resignation was reported as imminent, CNN has reported that Kelly, who is not currently on speaking terms with the president, was questioned by Robert Mueller.

Those questions were reportedly about a “narrow set of issues in the investigation of potential obstruction of justice.”

Mueller supposedly wanted Kelly to jog his memory and “recollection of an episode that took place after new reporting emerged about how the President had tried to fire Mueller”:

The White House counsel’s office had initially fought the Mueller request. One source familiar with the matter said that Emmett Flood wanted to make sure “ground rules” were negotiated.

“In order to question a government official about things that happened during the course of government business, you’ve got to show that it’s highly important and you can’t get it anywhere else,” the source said.

The source noted that the Kelly request came at a sensitive time, following raids of the home and office of Michael Cohen, the President’s now-former lawyer.

The “new reporting” referred to here was an explosive New York Times Jan. 2018 story, “Trump Ordered Mueller Fired, but Backed Off When White House Counsel Threatened to Quit.” The White House counsel mentioned is Don McGahn, who was also a key figure in a more recent Times story about Trump and ordering of political prosecutions.

McGahn was recently given credit for preventing the President Trump from ordering the prosecutions of fired FBI director James Comey and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As CNN alluded to in its story, McGahn did not publicly deny the Times‘ story about the order to fire Mueller. Nor, as Law&Crime noted, did McGahn really deny the claims made in the second Times article.

McGahn’s attorney William A. Burck said McGahn was not going to comment on the legal advice he’s given to the president. “[T]he president never, to [McGahn’s] knowledge, ordered that anyone prosecute Hillary Clinton or James Comey.”

That didn’t contradict the story’s main claim: “Trump Wanted to Order Justice Dept. to Prosecute Comey and Clinton.” Now we have two instances of McGahn not really denying Trump considering controversial prosecutions or firings, plus there’s detail that John Kelly may have known about this. Kelly started as chief of staff on July 31, 2017.

It’s notable that Trump was described as “angry” with former White House counsel McGahn for not publicly denying the first Times report we referenced. Even more notable is that Mueller reportedly tried to get Kelly to “corroborate McGahn’s version of events [about the firing story].”

It sure sounds like Kelly’s ouster from the chief of staff position and lack of speaking terms with the president could have something to do with him speaking to Mueller. McGahn was officially sent packing in October 2018, but his departure was a foregone conclusion since August of this year.

McGahn is said to have cooperated “extensively” on multiple occasions with the Mueller investigation. Legal analysts agree that McGahn’s cooperation with Mueller is crucial on the obstruction of justice issue. Put another way, “whatever Don McGahn knows, Mueller knows.”

[Image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.