Last summer, there were several reports about Donald Trump weighing a decision that likely would've created a serious crisis: the president was considering firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. People in Trump's orbit occasionally acknowledged as much publicly.
White House aides and the president's legal team, at the time, were quick to dismiss the reports, insisting that Trump never even "discussed" that possibility. "That's never been on the table," Trump lawyer John Dowd said in August, adding, "Never."
There's new reason to question the accuracy of those denials. As you've probably heard, the New York Times reported overnight:
President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, according to four people told of the matter, but ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive.The West Wing confrontation marks the first time Mr. Trump is known to have tried to fire the special counsel. Mr. Mueller learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials in his inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice.
Apparently, Trump even came up with a ludicrous rationale to help justify the firing, which apparently didn't prove persuasive to the White House counsel, who was prepared to quit after receiving the presidential order.
The president offered a predictable response to the news, telling reporters at the Davos World Economic Forum this morning, "Fake news, fake news. Typical New York Times. Fake stories."
Of course, not only does Trump have an unfortunate habit of constantly lying, the New York Times' article has also been bolstered by similar reporting from other major news organizations, including NBC News and the Washington Post.
There's no shortage of relevant angles to a story like this, but of particular interest to me is a persistent pattern in this White House: Trump keeps wanting to do "crazy" things, only to have aides steer him in less ridiculous directions.
In mid-April, just three months into this presidency, Politico had a report on the internal turmoil in the White House. "If you're an adviser to him, your job is to help him at the margins," one Trump confidante said. "To talk him out of doing crazy things."
Four months later, Axios had a related piece, citing a half-dozen "dismayed" senior administration officials, exasperated by the president's dangerous instincts. "You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill," one said.
In one especially memorable instance, we learned of an attorney in the White House counsel's office who decided to "mislead the president about his authority" when Trump first prepared to fire then-FBI Director James Comey.
One year into the Trump era, we're witnessing a White House engaged in a constant struggle to protect this president from himself. Determining which side of the fight is winning -- Trump or those around him, trying to stop the president from doing "crazy stuff" -- is itself a challenge.