Newsmax chief executive Chris Ruddy, a longtime friend of Donald Trump’s, was roundly discredited by the White House communications shop last June when he went on television to warn that the president was seriously considering the politically damaging step of firing special counsel Robert Mueller.
On Friday—the morning after The New York Times reported that Trump was not merely considering it last June, he actually tried to sack Mueller, and was thwarted only when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit if the president insisted on going forward—Ruddy was taking a victory lap of sorts.
“I don’t want to get into a pissing match with the White House press shop, but I stand by the comments I made in June that the president was considering firing Robert Mueller,” Ruddy told The Daily Beast. “I said at the time that I thought it wasn’t a good idea. I thought it was a very bad idea…I had been told by very high-ranking senior White House officials that he was seriously moving in that direction. I was not aware of the position of [Don] McGahn, but it fits into what I had heard.”
After Ruddy shared his alarming revelation seven months ago—first on the PBS NewsHour the evening of June 12 and the following morning on CNN’s New Day program—then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and other staffers were quick to dismiss the claim. It wasn’t the first time that Spicer and the Trump White House had attempted to muddy the truth.
“Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the President regarding this issue. With respect to this subject, only the President or his attorneys are authorized to comment,” Spicer said at the June 13 White House press briefing, while then-deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted, “Chris speaks for himself,” adding—during a press gaggle on Air Force One flying back to D.C. from Wisconsin—that Trump “has no intention” of firing Mueller.
As Ruddy’s comments were provoking a seismic reaction in official Washington, Spicer called him and pressed him to issue a statement affirming that he had never spoken to Trump about firing Mueller, and Ruddy refused.
Ruddy then issued a prickly statement: “Spicer issued a bizarre late-night press release that a) doesn’t deny my claim the President is considering firing Mueller and b) says I didn’t speak to the President about the matter—when I never claimed to have done so. Memo to Sean: focus your efforts on exposing the flim-flam Russian allegations against POTUS and highlighting his remarkable achievements! Don’t waste time trying to undermine one of your few allies.”
Spicer told CNN that he simply called Ruddy “and asked him to clarify that his statement was not based on any meetings or conversations with the president.”
On Friday morning, Ruddy left open the possibility that the White House communications operation had not been actively trying to mislead.
“I don’t know what internally goes on in the White House regarding the sharing of information with the press office,” he said. “I don’t get involved with that. I am a friend of the president. I generally support him, and if they say something’s accurate or no t, I don’t lose sleep over it…I just know what I know and I know what I don’t know.”