President calls reports “fake news” as he arrives at World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

Source: Rebecca Ballhaus

DAVOS, Switzerland—President Donald Trump on Friday dismissed as “fake news” reports that in June he ordered the top White House lawyer to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, but backed off when his counsel threatened to resign.

“Fake news. Fake news,” Mr. Trump said as he arrived in the World Economic Forum on Friday morning for meetings with foreign leaders ahead of his address this afternoon.

The New York Times first reported Thursday on Mr. Trump’s alleged directive, what would be the first known instance where he attempted to fire Mr. Mueller as the special counsel investigates whether Trump associates colluded in Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. Mr. Trump has denied collusion, and Moscow has denied meddling in the election.

The Department of Justice tapped Mr. Mueller to lead the investigation after Mr. Trump fired then-Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey last May. Mr. Comey had previously been leading the Russia probe.

Around the same point last summer as Mr. Trump reportedly issued his order to fire Mr. Mueller, West Wing officials expressed concern that White House counsel Don McGahn would quit out of frustration over the lack of protocols surrounding meetings between Mr. Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, whose activities are under scrutiny in the Russia probe, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

The president has repeatedly complained about what he perceives as a lack of loyalty among his top law-enforcement officials. He has attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his decision last spring to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, leaving Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in charge. Prior to firing Mr. Comey, he told the then-FBI director he expected his loyalty, Mr. Comey told Congress last year.

As part of the Russia investigation, Mr. Mueller is also examining whether the president obstructed justice in firing Mr. Comey. He has told Mr. Trump’s lawyers he may want to interview the president about that issue and others in the near future, the Journal reported.

Mr. Trump said Wednesday he was willing to testify under oath in Mr. Mueller’s investigation, which he has repeatedly called a “witch hunt,” putting the timeline for such an interview within two to three weeks. “I would love to do it, and I would like to do it as soon as possible,” the president said.

The president’s attorneys have spent recent weeks negotiating the precise terms under which Mr. Trump might consent to an interview with the special counsel, according to people familiar with their efforts.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com