WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump pushed back Friday against reports that he ordered White House lawyer Don McGahn to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last June.

“Fake news, folks. Fake news. Typical New York Times fake stories,” Trump retorted dismissively when asked about it by reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The reports, first by the Times and then others, said Trump backed off on his attempt to fire the man who is investigating him, his election campaign’s Russian contacts and his firings of FBI Director James Comey and national security adviser Michael Flynn — but only after lawyer McGahn refused to relay his directive to the Justice Department and threatened to quit if Trump pressed the issue.

In Washington, Mueller’s team was still on the job Friday, investigating the president and his 2016 election campaign. So. ...

What if claim is true?

Some legal experts noted that presidents, like anyone else, can say things they don’t mean when angry. At the same time, others saw the alleged Trump order as part of a pattern of obstruction that could be pressed by Mueller, disrupting or even dooming Trump’s presidency.

Would it be illegal?

Jacob Frenkel, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor, said defense lawyers would argue that the conversation with McGahn “was an expression of frustration and irritation, not an intended personnel action.”

A statement alone, without follow-up action, can be subject to different explanations and allow for reasonable doubt as to the intent, he said:

“It may not be the conclusion that people want to reach, but sitting back and looking at it objectively, the fact that there was no firing means there was no obstruction.”

That said, this latest revelation isn’t the only example of presidential action that could be seen as an attempt to interfere with an investigation of Trump and his campaign.

Another is the firing of Comey as FBI director last May. Mueller was appointed special counsel by Rod Rosenstein, the acting attorney general after Jeff Session stepped aside because of his own close involvement with the Trump campaign.

“It is easy to see where this would be an element or component to consider as part of an obstruction mosaic,” Frenkel said.

Will it affect probe?

It could have no bearing on the investigation at all.

Or it could be part of an obstruction case against Trump or others.

But that raises a perennial constitutional question: Can the president be charged in criminal court? Some in the legal field say yes. More say no, the only recourse is impeachment by Congress.

Meanwhile, despite the sensational nature of the Times report, there is likely little that Mueller doesn’t already know about events in the White House. Over 20 White House employees have given interviews and 28 people affiliated with the Trump campaign have talked to either the special counsel or congressional committees.

Trump attorney John Dowd said the White House, in what he called an “unprecedented” display of cooperation with the probe, has turned over more than 20,000 pages of records. The president’s 2016 campaign has turned over more than 1.4 million pages.

Political fallout likely?

Trump’s national approval numbers are low, but his conservative base has kept up its solid support through all the criticism in his first year as president. Why would this be any different?

Congressional Democrats have been quick to exploit the report. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia called Trump’s actions “a gross abuse of power.” But Republicans noted that the purported order came long ago and before Trump surrounded himself with new lawyers. Since then, his public demeanor toward Mueller has changed.

Nonetheless, senators were worried last summer; GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham and Thom Tillis introduced legislation to protect the special counsel, but that hasn’t gone anywhere.