WASHINGTON • Special Counsel Robert Mueller has obtained a letter drafted by Mr Donald Trump and a top political aide that offered an unvarnished view of the US President's thinking in the days before he fired FBI director James Comey.
The circumstances and reasons for the firing are believed to be a significant element of Mr Mueller's investigation, which includes whether Mr Trump obstructed justice by firing Mr Comey.
The letter, drafted in May, was met with opposition from Mr Donald McGahn II, the White House counsel, who believed that its angry, meandering tone was problematic, according to interviews with a dozen administration officials and others briefed on the matter. Among Mr McGahn's concerns were references to private conversations the President had with Mr Comey, including times when the FBI director told Mr Trump he was not under investigation in the bureau's continuing Russia inquiry.
Mr McGahn successfully blocked the President from sending the letter - which Mr Trump had composed with Mr Stephen Miller, one of his top political advisers - to Mr Comey. But a copy was given to Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, who then drafted his own letter. Mr Rosenstein's letter was ultimately used as the Trump administration's public rationale for Mr Comey's firing, which was that the FBI chief had mishandled the investigation into Mrs Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server.
Mr Rosenstein is overseeing Mr Mueller's investigation into Russian efforts to disrupt last year's presidential election, as well as whether Mr Trump obstructed justice.
Mr McGahn's concerns about Mr Trump's letter show how much he realised that the President's rationale for firing Mr Comey might not hold up to scrutiny, and how he and other administration officials sought to build a more defensible public case for his ouster.
Mr Trump and his aides gave multiple justifications for Mr Comey's dismissal in the days after he was fired. The first rationale was that the FBI director had mishandled the Clinton e-mail case. Another was that Mr Comey had lost the confidence of the FBI.
And during an Oval Office meeting with Russian officials, Mr Trump went so far as to call Mr Comey a "nut job" and said that firing him lifted pressure off the White House.