By Ryan Teague Beckwith and Tessa Berenson
Updated: March 19, 2018 4:22 PM ET | Originally published: January 26, 2018

Rumors are intensifying that President Donald Trump might fire special counsel Robert Mueller after a weekend tweetstorm in which Trump called out Mueller by name and argued that his investigation is biased.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb said Trump isn’t considering firing Mueller. “In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the Administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller,” he said in a statement Sunday night.

But Trump did order a White House lawyer to fire special counsel Mueller last June, according to multiple reports, and the New York Times, Washington Post and NBC News reported that White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the order, leading Trump to back down.

Asked about the reports while at a summit in Davos, Switzerland, Trump called it “fake news.”

“Fake news folks, fake news. Typical New York Times fake stories,” he told reporters.

The reports say that Trump felt Mueller faced conflicts of interest in investigating Trump because he resigned his membership at a Trump golf club in Virginia over fees; worked for a law firm that had previously represented his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and had been interviewed to return as FBI director in May.

Read more: President Trump Is Actually Allowed to Have Robert Mueller Fired, According to the Constitution

What do we know about the potential firing of Mueller by Trump? Here’s a quick look.

June 11: Jay Sekulow says Trump has the power to fire Mueller

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, newly hired Trump attorney Jay Sekulow argued that Trump has the constitutional authority to fire Mueller if he wants, citing a controversial and expansive theory of presidential power known as the “unitary executive.”

STEPHANOPOULOS: And finally, will the president promise not to interfere, not attempt at any time to order the deputy attorney general to fire Robert Mueller?

SEKULOW: Look, the president of the United States, as we all know, is a unitary executive. But the president is going to seek the advice of his counsel and inside the government as well as outside. And I’m not going to speculate on what he will or will not do.

But right now the role of the president is to govern the United States of America. He’s going to do that. He’s going to leave anything else to the lawyers. But I can’t imagine that that issue is going to arise. But that again is an issue that the president with his advisers would discuss if there was a basis.

I mean, George, if there was a basis upon which there was a question raised that raised the kind of issues that are serious, as in the situation with James Comey, the president has authority to take action. Whether he would do it is ultimately a decision the president makes.

I think that’s complete conjecture and speculation. The Constitution, it’s a unitary executive. You know that, you worked for a president.

June 12: Christopher Ruddy says Trump might fire Mueller

In a June 12 interview, Trump confidant Christopher Ruddy, CEO of the conservative Newsmax Media group, said that Trump was considering firing Mueller. “I think he’s considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. I think he’s weighing that option,” he told PBS’ Judy Woodruff.

The following day, the New York Times reported Trump was “entertaining the idea of firing” Mueller but that White House staff successfully discouraged him, and White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told a press gaggle aboard Air Force One that it was within his power:

Q Is the President considering whether or not he will fire or seek to have Robert Mueller fired as the Special Counsel?

MS. SANDERS: While the President has the right to, he has no intention to do so.

June 14: Reports that Mueller probe is widening

Reports from the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post on June 14 both indicated that Mueller’s investigation had now expanded to look at whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice when he fired Comey.

June 15: Trump criticizes Mueller on Twitter

In mid-June, Trump then took to Twitter to criticize the special counsel investigation, particularly over its potential focus on obstruction of justice, calling it the “single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history” (a phrase he has repeatedly used to describe the investigation) and arguing that investigators had conflicts of interest.

The next day, he tweeted again, appearing to criticize Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The tweet has two inaccuracies. First, Rosenstein is not investigating Trump; he simply oversees Mueller’s investigation,. Second, Rosenstein wrote the memo criticizing FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation at Trump’s request.

July 19: Trump says Mueller should not investigate his finances

During an interview with the Times in July, Trump then said Mueller would cross a line if he began looking into his family’s finances:

SCHMIDT: Last thing, if Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia — is that a red line?

HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?

TRUMP: I would say yeah. I would say yes.

But in the interview, Trump also declined to say whether he would fire him if that happened:

HABERMAN: Would you fire Mueller if he went outside of certain parameters of what his charge is? [crosstalk]

SCHMIDT: What would you do?

[crosstalk]

TRUMP: I can’t, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Aug. 6: Kellyanne Conway says Trump has ‘not discussed’ firing Mueller

In an appearance on ABC’s This Week, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said Trump “has not even discussed” firing Mueller:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does the president commit to not firing Robert Mueller?

CONWAY: The president has not even discussed that. The president is not discussing firing Bob Mueller.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But will he commit not to fire him?

CONWAY: We are complying and cooperating with — he has not even discussed not firing — he has not discussed firing Bob Mueller.

Oct. 16: Trump says he’d like investigation to end

At a joint news conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in October, Trump said that he would like to see the special counsel’s investigation end because “the American public is sick of it.”

Q Thank you. If it would help you — if it would help Special Counsel Robert Mueller get to the end of the Russia investigation, would you —

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’d like to see it end. Look, the whole Russian thing was an excuse —

Q Would you (inaudible).

THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me. Excuse me. The whole Russia thing was an excuse for the Democrats losing the election, and it turns out to be just one excuse. I mean, today Hillary blamed Nigel Farage. That one came out of nowhere. So that was just an excuse for the Democrats losing an election that, frankly, they have a big advantage in the Electoral College. They should always be able to win in the Electoral College, but they were unable to do it.

So there has been absolutely no collusion. It’s been stated that they have no collusion. They ought to get to the end of it because I think the American public is sick of it.

But he again said he was not considering firing Mueller:

Q Thank you, sir. A quick follow-up on an earlier question. You discussed the special counsel and the investigation currently. Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?

THE PRESIDENT: No, not at all.

Oct. 30: White House says ‘no plans’ to fire Mueller

On Oct. 30, former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of Mueller’s investigation. At a news briefing in the White House that day, Sanders was again asked if Trump plans to fire Mueller and again said he does not:

Q And is he going to rule out, once and for all, firing Robert Mueller?

MS. SANDERS: Look, I’ll address the second question first. The President said last week — I believe it was last week — and I’ve said it several times before, there is no intention or plan to make any changes in regards to the special counsel.

Dec. 17: Trump says he is not considering firing Mueller

Returning from a weekend at Camp David, Trump tells reporters that he is not considering firing Mueller, a question prompted by complaints from his allies about how Mueller’s team obtained emails from the presidential transition.

“No, I’m not,” he said.

Jan. 23: White House says firing Mueller would not be ‘helpful’

After a White House spokesperson again referred to the special counsel’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” Sanders was again asked if Trump would fire Mueller, and she said it would not be “helpful to the process.”

Q If it is, Sarah, a witch hunt, as the President has said and others members of the administration have said, why doesn’t the President just get rid of Bob Mueller, just fire him? Mr. Gidley also said today that it’s wasting taxpayers’ money. In that regard, why doesn’t he just end the investigation because it’s wasting the taxpayers’ money?

MS. SANDERS: Look, we want to see this come to a complete and full conclusion. I think we all know what everybody in this room would do if the President did that, and I don’t think that’s helpful to the process.

The President wants to see this end, and he wants to see them finally come to the same conclusion that I think most everyone in America has, that there is nothing to this. They’ve spent the better part — most of you have spent the better part of a year looking, digging, obsessing over trying to find something and have yet to find anything.

March 16: Jeff Sessions fires Andrew McCabe

Trump called it a “great day for Democracy” when Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.

McCabe said his ouster was “part of this administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the special counsel investigation, which continue to this day.” McCabe could be an important witness in Mueller’s probe, given his proximity to Trump’s firing of James Comey as FBI director, which Mueller is reportedly interested in. Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd said in a statement the day after McCabe’s firing that Rosenstein should “bring an end” to the Russia investigation “manufactured” by Comey, but told the Associated Press that he wasn’t telling Rosenstein to immediately fire Comey.

March 18: Trump tweets angrily about Mueller

Renewing speculation that he might fire the special counsel, Trump tweeted about Mueller by name, saying the investigation “should never have been started” and accusing the team of political bias.

March 18: Ty Cobb says Trump not discussing firing Mueller

After Trump’s tweets, White House lawyer Ty Cobb put out a statement the same day that said, “In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the Administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”

March 18: Lindsey Graham warns against firing Mueller

Speaking on CNN, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said firing the special counsel would be the “beginning of the end” for Trump. “If he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency,” Graham said. “The only reason that Mr. Mueller could be dismissed is for cause. I see no cause when it comes to Mr. Mueller.” He also added: “I pledge to the American people, as a Republican, to make sure that Mr. Mueller can continue to do his job without any interference.”

 

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