U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

Trump Escalates Mueller Criticism, Calling Probe Attack on U.S.

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump escalated his criticism of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions following a raid on the office of the president’s personal attorney, describing the probe as an attack on the U.S.

The FBI raid on Monday, which was approved by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, represents “a whole new level of unfairness” in Mueller’s investigation, Trump complained to reporters in a meeting with military leaders.

He described Monday’s raid as a crime, saying that the FBI “broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, a good man.”

“It’s a disgraceful situation, it’s a total witch hunt,” the president said, clearly frustrated by the news. “It’s an attack on our country, in a sense, it’s an attack on what we all stand for.”

Monday’s raid was conducted after a referral to federal prosecutors in Manhattan approved by Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia investigation led by Mueller because Sessions recused himself.

Sessions made a “terrible mistake,” Trump said. He should have informed the president he would recuse himself in the investigation before his nomination, Trump said, repeating a previous criticism.

‘Terrible Mistake’

“The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this and when he recused himself, or he should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself and we would have used a -- put a different attorney general in,” Trump said.

Trump wanted to fire Mueller last June, people familiar with the matter said, raising concerns among his top aides and confidants that he would place himself in legal jeopardy. He relented after White House Counsel Don McGahn refused to carry out the order and threatened to resign, the New York Times reported.

Asked about the prospect on Monday, he did not answer clearly but said: “We’ll see what happens, but I think it’s really a sad situation when you look what happened.”

The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, issued a statement warning Trump to allow Mueller to continue his work.

“If the president is thinking of using this raid to fire Special Counsel Mueller or otherwise interfere with the chain of command in the Russia probe, we Democrats have one simple message for him: don’t,” Schumer said.

‘Deep and Detailed Pattern’

Mueller has “uncovered a deep and detailed pattern of Russian interference in our elections that has led to indictments and guilty pleas,” he said. U.S. sanctions leveled on Russians following Mueller’s findings are “proof that it’s not a so-called ‘witch hunt.”’

“The investigation is critical to health of our democracy, and must be allowed to continue,” Schumer said.

The raid in New York came as a result of evidence that Mueller’s team of prosecutors obtained in the course of investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump or any of his associates helped the Russians.

But responsibility for the raid and the handling of seized materials was farmed out to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York after Mueller consulted with Rosenstein, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Complaints About Clinton Probe

Trump said that Mueller’s probe is staffed by “the most biased group of people,” describing them as mostly Democrats with conflicts of interest, and complained that they aren’t examining his election opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“They only keep looking at us,” he said. “We’ll be talking about it more but this is the most conflicted group of people.”

He also complained that news of the raid had hurt the stock market.

“The stock market dropped a lot today as soon as they heard the noise, you know, this nonsense was going on,” he said. “It was up, way up, and then it dropped quite a bit at the end. A lot.”

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