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Photo: Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

It was after 2 a.m. in Davos — with even hardy partiers gone from Salesforce's wild "Aloha Nightcap" at the Cabanna Club — when White House officials and reporters were hit by one of the biggest bombshells of this presidency so far ...

"President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, ... but ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive," the N.Y. Times' Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report:

  • "Mueller learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials." (Including the counsel who threatened to resign, Don McGahn!)
  • Key point: "McGahn disagreed with the president’s case and told senior White House officials that firing Mr. Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Mr. Trump’s presidency."
  • "McGahn also told White House officials that Mr. Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own. The president then backed off."
  • "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."
  • "First, [Trump] claimed that a dispute years ago over fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., had prompted Mr. Mueller, the F.B.I. director at the time, to resign his membership. The president also said Mr. Mueller could not be impartial because he had most recently worked for the law firm that previously represented the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Finally, the president said, Mr. Mueller had been interviewed to return as the F.B.I. director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May."
  • Why it matters: "The White House has denied nearly a dozen times since June that Mr. Trump was considering firing Mr. Mueller."

Be smart: As we told you Wednesday in our piece about Mueller following Trump like a dark cloud: These actions were taken in office knowing the whole world is watching for a cover-up. It’s the ultimate unforced error — and reason many around Trump fear him testifying.

Trump dismisses ... "Fake news. Fake news. Typical New York Times. Fake stories.”

P.S. CNN's Groundhog Day headline this morning: "TRUMP TRIP OVERSHADOWED BY CONTROVERSY."

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Go deeper

Anti-abortion activists' Supreme Court dreams are coming true

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photos: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

This is the moment the conservative legal movement has been building toward for decades: The solidly conservative Supreme Court is about to hear two major abortion cases within a month of each other.

Why it matters: All of this is likely to end with significant new restrictions on abortion and a clear path for Republican-led states to win the next big abortion cases, too — the culmination of a long and bitter fight for control of the judiciary.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Trump's volatile return to the stock market

Expand chart
Data: YCharts; Chart: Axios Visuals 

Donald Trump this week became both a meme stock and a social-media entrepreneur at the same time, by announcing that a new company called Trump Media & Technology Group was going to merge with an existing company listed on the stock market.

Why it matters: The medium-term promise of Trump's media company is that it will replace Twitter for anybody wanting to keep track of Trump's messages. The short-term promise is that it can be a hot new speculative vehicle for people wanting to get rich quick in the stock market.

Updated 13 hours ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.