Hong Kong/Washington: President Donald Trump last year ordered the firing of Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the US probe into Russia’s alleged election interference, the New York Times reported.

Trump rescinded the June order after White House counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry it out, the Times reported late Thursday, citing four unnamed people familiar with the matter. Mueller, who was appointed in May after Trump fired former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, subsequently learned about the discussions during inquiries into possible obstruction of justice by the president, the paper said.

Ty Cobb, who manages the White House’s interactions with Mueller’s office, declined to comment, “out of respect for the Office of the Special Counsel and its process."

The report comes amid indications that Mueller’s probe is moving at a far faster pace than previously known, with the obstruction of justice portion of the investigation apparently wrapping up, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, citing current and former US officials. Mueller is expected to schedule an interview with Trump in the coming weeks to discuss those events, according to one person familiar with the matter.

“I’m looking forward to it," Trump told reporters on Wednesday at the White House, suggesting the meeting may happen in about two to three weeks. Trump said he “would love to do it" and “I would do it under oath."

Trump’s arguments

Mueller has quietly moved closer to those around Trump in recent weeks by interviewing Comey, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Agency director Michael Rogers, attorney general Jeff Sessions, the current and former US officials said. His team has also interviewed CIA director Mike Pompeo, NBC News reported.

The president argued that Mueller had a series of potential conflicts that prevent him from being an impartial investigator, the Times, said citing two of the people familiar with the attempt to fire the special counsel.

One complaint centered on a dispute over fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, that had prompted Mueller to resign his membership, the paper said. Trump also cited Mueller’s work for a law firm that had previously represented the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and that Mueller had been interviewed to return as the FBI director before his appointment as special counsel in May.

McGahn, the White House counsel, refused to ask the US Justice Department to dismiss the special counsel, saying he would quit instead, the Times said. McGahn told senior White House officials that firing Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Trump’s presidency, the paper said. Bloomberg

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