The Atlantic Daily: When Trump Tried to Fire Mueller

Investigation intrigue, economic expectations, immigration debate, and more

President Donald Trump leaves the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 26, 2018. (Carlos Barria / Reuters)

What We’re Following

Trump vs. Mueller: President Trump reportedly tried to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June 2017, but backed down when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than help him do it. The showdown carries strong echoes of the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre, when two Justice Department officials stepped down rather than carry out President Richard Nixon’s order to fire the prosecutor investigating Watergate. That McGahn successfully stood up to Trump could be a sign that the GOP establishment retains its strength—but it’s not clear how long Trump’s aides can dissuade him from impulsive decisions. Already, the president has shown a pattern of behavior that could be used to build a case of obstruction of justice against him.

Economic Policy: Trump spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Though some attendees had expected to see the president’s trademark bombast, he instead sought to calm international business leaders concerned by his rhetoric against globalization, declaring that “America is open for business.” Elsewhere, a new task force is trying to improve public health in developing countries by calling for taxes on sugary drinks and food. And white-collar workers in the U.S. are organizing unions—though their blue-collar counterparts haven’t been as successful.

Immigration Issues: In addition to calling for a border wall and aggressive deportations, the White House immigration proposal released on Thursday recommends a path to citizenship, not only for the existing recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but also for DACA-eligible undocumented immigrants who have not yet applied. It’s the latest salvo in an heated debate over immigration policy, which Peter Beinart argues has become more central to American politics as economic and wartime problems have given way to discussions of national identity. On the latest episode of Radio Atlantic, three Atlantic editors and second-generation immigrants discuss that pressing question: Who gets to be American?


A murmuration of starlings forms the shape of a bird over Rahat, Israel, on January 22, 2018. See more of the week’s best photos here. (Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty)

Who We’re Talking To

Victoria Mapplebeck, a filmmaker, retraces her relationship with her son’s absentee father—a story that unfolds over 100 texts found in an old Nokia phone—in her short documentary 160 Characters. Watch it here.

Yvonne Rolzhausen, The Atlantic’s senior editor for fact-checking, explains how she confirmed the details in Graeme Wood’s 2015 feature story “What ISIS Really Wants.”

Evening Read

Emily Voigt on the bird feeder she installed in her Manhattan high-rise apartment:

I had to acknowledge that the feeder had become a major distraction. House finches are known to exhibit mild “feeder aggression,” and fights were constantly breaking out, dueling males tumbling by the window in cartoonish pinwheels. In lieu of actual food, our cupboards were stuffed with 16-pound bags of birdseed that we lugged up from the mail room all too frequently. At least every other week, I had to remove the feeder to scrub it with bleach and scrape off our ledges caked solid with bird poop …

I wanted to take down the feeder myself but felt responsible for the finches. If the classic studies on rural chickadees found they didn’t become dependent on feeders, how much did that tell us about birds eking out an existence on the mean streets of Greenwich Village? The question is more relevant today than ever before, in an age when half the human population now resides in cities for the first time in history, a proportion that’s rapidly on the rise. Over the coming decades, the future of many wild animals will depend on their ability to adapt to an increasingly urbanized world. At the library, I searched out a book called Avian Urban Ecology, which said that little is known about the impact of feeding most birds in cities. There is, however, one stunning exception.

Keep reading here as Voigt describes how urban finches have adapted to bird feeders—developing a “finch Brooklyn accent” along the way.

What Do You Know … About Culture?

Fans of movies, music, and sports are gearing up for some major events in the next few weeks. Oscar nominations were announced this week, and David Sims writes that this year’s slate is especially meaningful for those who work behind the camera. Sunday’s Grammy Awards will most likely celebrate rap and R&B artists in a way the ceremony hasn’t done before. And with the unpredictable Nick Foles leading the Philadelphia Eagles to next weekend’s Super Bowl, it looks as though star quarterbacks are no longer necessary to make it to football’s biggest game.

Can you remember the other key facts from this week’s culture coverage? Test your knowledge below:

1. At 12.8, The Greatest Showman’s ____________, which measures how well a film does after its opening weekend and helps gauge a movie’s word-of-mouth success, is one of the highest ever.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

2. The new miniseries Waco is the first TV series to dramatize the 1993 government raid on the religious cult led by ____________.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

3. At the sexual abuse trial for former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, a total of ____________ women came forward to speak about their experiences with Nassar.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

Poem of the Week

From our August 1910 issue, “A Fixed Idea” by Amy Lowell:

You lie upon my heart as on a nest,
Folded in peace, for you can never know
How crushed I am with having you at rest
Heavy upon my life.

Read more here.

Reader Response

So far, we’ve heard from two former Trump supporters who are now disgusted with the president’s demeanor, especially on Twitter. Matthew, “a Republican, college-educated Millennial from California,” cites these factors among the reasons he couldn’t bring himself to vote for Trump in 2016—but since then, he’s changed his mind:

Today, I can see myself voting for Trump in 2020. As unorthodox and unlikable as his approach has been, it’s worked, and that’s really what matters at the end of the day. A historic tax reform, long needed in this country, is now in the books, and I—along with a vast majority of Americans—will receive a tax cut. The key part of the proposal, the corporate rate cuts, are permanent: a delightful strategic move which will cement this critical economic stimulus in place for years, if not decades to come. There is also the work that is being done behind the scenes … he is deconstructing the administrative state, slashing regulations, and creating an economy that can grow. Even his apparently irrational foreign policy has not failed as I expected …

I have come to see a certain strategy in the tweeting. It seems to have provided him and the GOP the political cover requisite to pass tax reform, and some of his tweets are genuinely funny—and spot-on. I notice that when I actually read his tweets, they are much more reasonable than their common portrayal suggests. Every time he tweets, the media spends the entire day talking about it, portraying Trump as a wildly unpredictable and unstable figure. But this just enhances his political power, which comes from this volatility. … Whether this is purely accidental or some kind of four-dimensional chess on Trump’s part, I cannot say. All I know is that it’s working, and I like that.

Two opposing views on how to cover Trump tweets here and here. More on the work accomplished by his administration here. More reader responses here, and more to come.


Students spending, doomsday looming, bacterium glowing, readers forgetting.

Time of Your Life

Happy birthday to Sharon (twice the age of the 24-hour news cycle); to Sheila (a year younger than It’s a Wonderful Life); to Sue (born around the time Dwight Eisenhower was sworn in as president); and to Nick (a year younger than The Sound of Music).

Tomorrow, happy birthday to Fran’s daughter Keally (twice the age of the iTunes Store); to Daniel’s longtime friend Letícia (a year younger than The Simpsons); to Karen’s son Michael (twice the age of Wikipedia); to Beth’s older brother Dan (a year younger than scuba gear); and to Heidi’s son Archer, who at 8 is too young for the Timeline, but just the right age to become a spy.

Do you or a loved one have a birthday coming up? Sign up for a birthday shout-out here, and click here to explore the Timeline feature for yourself.

Most Popular on The Atlantic

Here are five of the most-read stories on our site today:

1. How Trump Built an Obstruction of Justice Case Against Himself

2. The Startling Link Between Sugar and Alzheimer’s

3. Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read

4. Why Can’t People Hear What Jordan Peterson Is Saying?

5. How Long Can the President’s Aides Restrain Him?

Meet The Atlantic Daily’s team here, and contact us here.

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