Trump ordered that special investigator Robert Mueller be fired, but backed off when the White House's legal counsel threatened to resign.
The West Wing confrontation marks the first time Mr. Trump is known to have tried to fire the special counsel. Mr. Mueller learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials in his inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice.
Amid the first wave of news media reports that Mr. Mueller was examining a possible obstruction case, the president began to argue that Mr. Mueller had three conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation, two of the people said.
The man who mastered Trump here is Donald F. McGahn II. There seems to be a knack for manipulating Trump, through sycophancy or triggering his fear of looking stupid. Some people just never get close — GOP politicians — but military men and rock guitarists instinctively have his number.