President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that Robert Mueller was unsuited for the role of special counsel because, as he stated Monday, “He wanted the job of FBI director and he didn’t get it” — a conflict of interest, according to the president.
Testifying before Congress Wednesday, Mueller rejected that premise.
During a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) asked Mueller whether he and Trump had discussed the vacancy left by fired FBI Director James Comey when the two men met in May 2017, shortly after Comey was dismissed.
“When you talked to President Trump the day before you were appointed as special counsel, you were talking to him about FBI director position again. Did he mention the firing of James Comey?” Gohmert asked.
Mueller interjected, noting that he had not discussed the role “as a candidate.”
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) asked Mueller additional questions later on Wednesday about claims that he had interviewed for the position of FBI director. “My understanding [was] I was not applying for the job,” Mueller answered. “I was asked to give my input on what it would take to do the job.”
“I interviewed with the president … about the job, but not about me applying for the job,” he added.
When Steube asked whether he had told Vice President Mike Pence that the position would be “the on job you would come back for,” Mueller said he didn’t recall saying any such thing.
This jibes with the contents of Mueller’s final report, which was made public in April following a nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference and possible obstruction by the president.
In the report, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who also served as chief executive of the Trump campaign, testified that Mueller had not approached the May 2017 meeting “looking for the job.”
“As for Mueller’s interview for FBI Director, Bannon recalled that the White House had invited Mueller to speak to the President to offer a perspective on the institution of the FBI,” the report read. “Bannon said that, although the White House thought about beseeching Mueller to become Director again, he did not come in looking for the job.”
Bannon also notably refuted Trump’s claims that Mueller was not qualified for the role. “Bannon recalled telling the President that the purported conflicts were ‘ridiculous’ and that none of them was real or could come close to justifying precluding Mueller from serving as Special Counsel,” the report noted.
For at least a year, Trump has been insisting that Mueller wanted the job of FBI director and that Trump turned him down. This, the president has argued, was a conflict of interest that undermined Mueller’s credibility.
Trump has also claimed Mueller was not qualified for the role of special counsel because he was friends with Comey, among other things.
Is Robert Mueller ever going to release his conflicts of interest with respect to President Trump, including the fact that we had a very nasty & contentious business relationship, I turned him down to head the FBI (one day before appointment as S.C.) & Comey is his close friend..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2018
Robert Mueller came to the Oval Office (along with other potential candidates) seeking to be named the Director of the FBI. He had already been in that position for 12 years, I told him NO. The next day he was named Special Counsel – A total Conflict of Interest. NICE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2019
Wednesday morning, Trump raised the point again, warning Mueller not to testify under oath that he had not applied applied or interviewed for the job.
“Hope he doesn’t say under oath in that we have numerous witnesses to the interview, including the Vice President of the United States!” Trump tweeted.
As Washington Post reporter Devlin Barrett noted in May, Mueller is barred from serving as FBI director again, having previously served in the role from 2001 to 2013. However, sources have since claimed that several White House officials were willing to “push Congress to pass a new law” in order to make such a re-appointment possible.
This article has been updated to include additional comments from former special counsel Robert Mueller.