WASHINGTON — Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on Sunday disputed reports that President Donald Trump sought to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last summer.
“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,” Priebus said on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” during his first interview since his last day working at the White House last summer.
The New York Times recently reported Trump ordered the firing of Mueller in June, and backed down only when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign. The Washington Post later reported that Priebus, along with then-White House strategist Steve Bannon, grew increasingly concerned back in June that Trump would fire Mueller, and tried to get others to intervene with Trump.
“I would know the difference between a level-10 situation as reported in that story and what was reality, and to me that wasn’t reality," Priebus said.
“I think it was very 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 that he made that very clear," Priebus said. "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.”
The former chief of staff also defended Trump from allegations that he has obstructed justice, saying he “never felt that there was some sort of collusion or some kind of obstruction situation going on in the West Wing.”
Priebus resisted speaking about some of the issues around former national security adviser Michael Flynn, saying, “I can’t really get into all of that because you know all of that is classified.”
But he did assert that Flynn misled him about the nature of his conversation with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
On Dec. 29, 2016, a few weeks before Trump was sworn into office, Flynn spoke with Kislyak about sanctions administered by the Obama administration — something Priebus said Flynn "denied over and over and over again."
“To me, certainly, it was something he always denied right until the end,” Priebus said.
The White House has said Flynn was ultimately fired because he misled Vice President Mike Pence about whether sanctions were included in their discussion.
On Sunday, Priebus raised the possibility that Flynn could have possibly even kept his job if he hadn't repeatedly misled the administration. "We never got to that matrix," Priebus said. "It didn't necessarily have to get to the point of 12 denials."
Priebus on Sunday also defended his own explanation of the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and several Russians after Trump Jr. was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
In July, before emails from Trump Jr. revealed how the meeting was set up, Priebus told Fox News, “It was a meeting apparently about Russian adoption and after about 20 minutes, the meeting ended and that was the end of it."
Priebus stood by his answer on Sunday, reiterating that he felt those involved didn’t think much about the meeting and that they believed it was “truly about these issues of Russian adoption.” He claimed that the adoption premise is what he “always heard” and that it came from “members of the family.”
As communications between Russians and associates of Trump receive increased scrutiny by Mueller and numerous congressional committees conducting their own investigations, Priebus defended his overall tenure while serving at the White House.
“I never felt that I was involved in something nefarious," he said, "the whole way through, from the beginning to the end.”