Actually fails to do so: Back in June 2017, did Donald J. Trump order Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller?
In the past two weeks, the New York Times and the Washington Post have each reported that he did. Each paper reported that McGahn then told "White House officials" or "West Wing staff" that he would resign before he would comply with that order.
Did those events actually happen? On yesterday morning's Meet the Press, Chuck Todd's first guest was Reince Priebus, Trump's chief of staff at that time.
Almost surely, Priebu would have known if these events occurred. And sure enough! Todd raised this topic right at the start of his interview:
TODD (2/4/18): Let me start right on an issue that happened near the end of your tenure as White House chief of staff.To watch this exchange, click here.
The Washington Post reported late last month the following:
Trump's ire at Mueller rose to such a level that then White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon and then Chief of Staff Reince Priebus grew, quote, incredibly concerned that he was going to fire Mueller and sought to enlist others to intervene with the president, according to a Trump adviser who requested anonymity, to describe private conversations.
This was all in that report that White House counsel Don McGahn said he'd resign if ordered to do this.
What can you tell us about this event?
Did Don McGahn threaten to resign, as the Post and the Times reported? Todd's first question, which was remarkably fuzzy, set the tone for the discussion to come, in which Todd seemed to go out of his way to avoid seeking specific answers from Priebus.
"What can you tell us about this event?" That's an absurdly fuzzy question to pose to a fuzzy talker like Priebus. And indeed, in his initial fuzzy reply, Priebus told us remarkably little.
That seemed OK with Todd. Throughout the discussion, he avoided such obvious questions as these:
Fairly obvious, fairly specific questions:Those seem like fairly obvious questions. They're also fairly specific.
Did McGahn ever tell you that Trump had told him to fire Mueller?
Did you ever hear McGahn say that he would resign before he would follow that order?
Did anyone else ever tell you about any such statements by McGahn?
Did anyone ever tell you that McGahn had been given that order?
Did anyone ever tell you that McGahn had refused such an order? That he had said he would resign instead?
Instead of asking such questions, Todd let an extremely fuzzy non-discussion unfold. Consider this worthless early exchange:
PRIEBUS: I never felt, of all the things that we went through in the West Wing, I never felt that the president was going to fire the special counsel. So, I never felt the level of—Note the instant failure by Todd. The Post and the Times didn't report that Trump had said such things to Priebus. The papers reported that Trump gave a specific order to McGahn.
TODD: Feeling and what people heard, it's possible the president uttered the words, "I want Mueller fired, I want Mueller gone."
PRIEBUS: I never heard that.
TODD: But you never took it—
PRIEBUS: No, I never heard that.
TODD: You never heard those specific—
PRIEBUS: I never heard that, no.
TODD: The sentiment was expressed?
Already, Todd was letting Priebus dispute a claim the newspapers hadn't made. As the non-discussion continued, so did the failure to get specific answers to specific questions:
TODD (continuing directly): The sentiment was expressed?We don't even know what to highlight. Priebus didn't "feel" something when he was there? Todd still hasn't asked the basic question: Did McGahn ever tell him about that alleged order from Trump?
PRIEBUS: I think it was clear by the president's own words that he was concerned about the conflicts of interest that he felt that the special counsel had. And he made that very clear. Perhaps someone interpreted that to mean something else.
But I know the difference between "Fire that person," "Why isn't that person gone" to what I read in the New York Times piece. So when I read that, I'm just telling you—
PRIEBUS: —I didn't feel that when I was there.
Finally, Todd mentioned McGahn. But his question was extremely fussy, and so was the bullroar which followed:
TODD: Did Don McGahn express that concern?By now, it isn't even entirely clear who "he" is supposed to be. Indeed, this whole exchange had adopted a "Who's On First" quality by this point. This was especially true watching this jumbled discussion in real time, rather than by poring over the NBC transcript, which we've had to correct in many ways.
PRIEBUS: Not in particular. But I'm, but again—
TODD: Is this story wrong?
PRIEBUS: Um, I think—I didn't think it was right. I mean, put it that way. I mean, I didn't, I didn't believe it was accurate.
TODD: But you're not, but you're not ready, you're not disputing it in full. Why?
PRIEBUS: I'm disputing it from my point of view, right, because I never heard that.
TODD: From your point of view. You never heard it, but you're not—it's possible he did express this?
Did Don McGahn ever tell Priebus that he'd been ordered to fire Mueller? It's very easy to ask that question. If you're going to raise this topic, the question is blindingly obvious.
Instead of asking specific questions, Todd stumblebummed his way along, as he always does when speaking to Priebus. It's hard to believe that this is really the best Chuck Todd can do.
We live in a nation of 330 million people. It's hard to believe that this is the best our big corporate news orgs can do. Again and again, one has to assume that they don't really want to do better.