- Democrats are accusing President Donald Trump or obstructing justice following a report that he ordered his lawyer to fire special counsel Robert Mueller in June.
- White House lawyer Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the order, and Trump ultimately backed down.
- Republicans argue that Mueller's continued presence on the case disproves the obstruction charge.
The New York Times on Thursday reported that Trump told White House lawyer Don McGahn to fire Mueller in June, shortly after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed the special counsel to investigate ties between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia.
In order to justify his order, according to the Times, Trump cited multiple instances of what he perceived to be conflicts of interest. One conflict, Trump reportedly argued, involved a years-old dispute at Trump National Golf Club that led Mueller to give up his membership.
McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the order, the Times said, and Trump backed down from his attempt to remove Mueller from the investigation.
Some Democrats were quick to label the incident an instance of obstruction of justice.
"If that's not obstruction of justice, I don't know what is," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. "It's reminiscent of President Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre."
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., told CNBC in a phone interview that the biggest threats to Mueller's investigation are "the president and the president's supporters in Congress and the Senate."
Some Republicans argued that Mueller's continued presence on the case disproves the obstruction charge.
"Unless they can get Don McGahn on the record verifying the story this looks like more salacious tabloid journalism. And by the way, he didn't fire him – that would have been news," said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.
Others echoed Trump, who was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, when he called the report "fake news."
"As far as I am concerned the president has addressed these accusations," said Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan. "This morning he called it fake news, and I side with President Trump."
Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., went a step further, questioning whether "the New York Times is trying to distract attention from the explosive FISA memo" — a reference to a classified memo from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., purporting to cast doubt on the special counsel's integrity by uncovering alleged abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Democrats weren't impressed with that line of reasoning.
"I don't know how to respond to people who don't believe in journalism or facts," said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif, said in an interview. "The reality is, the reporting was sourced. It's clear that he wanted to do this."
CNBC reached out to hundreds of House and Senate offices to gauge the reaction on Capitol Hill. Here are some of their responses:
- Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas: "Drop by drop, the unchecked acid of Trump's relentless assault on law enforcement and attacks on our free press erode the foundation of our democracy. Republican silence is complicity."
- Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.: "This report is stunning confirmation of President Trump's willingness to upend the rule of law and attack our institutions to protect himself, his family, and his inner circle."
- Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan.: "Record high stock market, record lows in unemployment, and the NYT would rather report on yet another aged rumor."
- Rep. David Price, D-N.C.: "The firing of the Special Counsel, or any attempt to disrupt or undermine his investigation, is a gross abuse of power and should represent a red line for lawmakers who took an oath to defend the constitution."
- Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C.: "President Trump said this is fake news. Robert Mueller is still on the job."
- Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn.: "I have no doubt that President Trump obstructed justice in his repeated attempts to shut down the Russia investigation. Even as this Republican Congress covers up for President Trump, the evidence continues to build for impeachment in the next Congress."
- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: "House Republicans refuse to fully investigate the threat and instead are waging a campaign to impugn the credibility of our nation's law enforcement."
- Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J.: "It is irresponsible, dangerous, and even treasonous for this President to seek to obstruct and undermine an investigation into his Administration and possible collusion with the Trump campaign."
- Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.: "The Mueller investigation has been shoddy, politicized and full of leaks; therefore, good cause [to fire Mueller] exists. Nevertheless, Mueller was not fired — but the ability and reasons to do so exist."
- Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.: "No one can believe anything the President says. He makes up things; he exaggerates; he changes his story by the tweet. So let's see how he does under oath when confronted by Mueller."