SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The U.S. government rumbled back to life this week after a brief shutdown. President Trump brought his America First message to Davos. The White House began to outline an offer on an immigration deal. And The New York Times dropped another reportorial bombshell. Our Ron Elving is here to talk with us. Thanks very much for being with us, Ron.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: And so bring us up to date on what we know about that New York Times report, which has since been, I think, added to by a number of other news organizations, about this drama between Trump and Mueller.
ELVING: They're reporting that in June of last year, the president told his White House counsel to fire Robert Mueller. Now, of course, that's the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. And, of course, the Justice Department did that because Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been investigating that interference.
So the Times and other news organizations have reported that the president was incensed at learning that Mueller was going beyond the Russian interference allegations to possible collusion with the Trump campaign and going beyond that to investigate whether anyone in the White House had attempted to interfere with the investigation. And, of course, that would be a crime known as obstruction of justice.
SIMON: Yeah. And there is - we should remind ourselves, historically, there's a pattern that investigations begin in one avenue and sometimes wind up in another, don't they?
ELVING: Yes, indeed. The cover up, as they say, is often worse than the crime.
SIMON: Tell us a bit about Don McGahn, the White House counsel. He's a compelling and colorful figure, sometimes, isn't he?
ELVING: Yes, not a household name, at least not until this week. He is an interesting individual, however. He's a partner in Jones Day, which is one of the nation's leading law firms. He is a former member and, in fact, chairman of the Federal Election Commission. He was appointed there by President George W. Bush. Now, well before he worked for President Trump, he also worked for a number of other Republican presidential candidates during the 2016 cycle.
And we should mention that he is regarded as a world-class expert in campaign law and especially in campaign finance law. And may I also add he is quite an accomplished rock electric guitar player, has fronted a band that did Guns and Roses covers quite well and has a remarkable collection of electric guitars?
SIMON: That's what I meant by colorful. This adds to the crisis Republicans are confronting in the country, doesn't it?
ELVING: Yes. It would seem to amplify that crisis at this point. We don't know why this particular leak came out just at this particular time or who the four people The New York Times is relying upon might be. Some people are speculating on Twitter that Trump's own inner circle may have wanted this out at this time to show the president just how much negative reaction there would be if he fired Mueller and maybe to persuade him to stop thinking about doing it.
SIMON: What about all this attention that the Devin Nunes memo has gotten - this mystery memo?
ELVING: There's been a tremendous amount of that attention and energy, especially in conservative media and talk radio. You heard the congressman from Florida on your own program earlier this morning talking about this. And it purports to show that the FBI is harboring a conspiracy against the president, a secret society as they call it. And this was supposedly composed of agents who had been investigating Hillary Clinton and later investigating Donald Trump in the 2016 cycle.
And it supposedly also includes some information about secret sources of the FBI, which is why it hasn't come to light as yet. There are reasons not to expose those kinds of sources. And in the end, it may be more useful to the president's camp if it stays in the realm of rumor than if we actually got to see it.
SIMON: And then the president, in the middle of all this, flew off to Davos. NPR's Ron Elving, thanks very much.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.