Trump Calls on Sessions to Stop Mueller’s Russia Probe
(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to halt Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, ramping up his attacks on the probe as the president’s former campaign chairman goes on trial for unrelated criminal charges.
"This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further," Trump said Wednesday in a Twitter posting. "Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!"
The public request to his attorney general to stop a federal investigation is an extraordinary departure from traditional boundaries between the president and law enforcement. Presidents typically avoid public comment on ongoing criminal investigations to avoid any perception they are seeking to influence the outcome.
“Jeez,” gasped Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine as she was read the president’s tweet in an interview. “This is unbelievable.”
"Those comments are totally inappropriate,” she added. “The president should not be talking about the investigation at all.”
Jay Sekulow, the president’s personal attorney, said Trump “has issued no order or direction to the Department of Justice on this.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the tweet, saying “it’s not an order, it’s the president’s opinion.” She added that Trump is merely “fighting back” against the probe.
Trump has frequently railed against Sessions, saying he never would have picked the former Alabama senator to lead the Justice Department if he knew Sessions would recuse himself in the Russia probe. Sessions took that move in March last year after reports surfaced that he had contacts with Russia’s ambassador in 2016. The decision has left Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with oversight of Mueller’s probe.
But the president has always stopped short of firing his attorney general. Republicans as well as Democrats have repeatedly warned that doing so would make Trump appear guilty and could imperil his presidency. Nevertheless, a group of conservative congressional allies of the president, led by Representatives Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, launched an effort last week to impeach Rosenstein.
Sessions didn’t immediately respond to the president’s tweet. Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, declined to comment.
Trump’s tweet was immediately condemned by some Democratic lawmakers as a blatant attempt to obstruct justice.
“The President of the United States just called on his Attorney General to put an end to an investigation in which the President, his family and campaign may be implicated," Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on Twitter. "This is an attempt to obstruct justice hiding in plain sight. America must never accept it."
The request could reinvigorate legislation that would protect Mueller from being fired without cause. The measure won bipartisan support from the Senate Judiciary Committee in April, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said it won’t get consideration by the full Senate.
In view of the tweet, "I think it would be helpful to have the debate on that bill," Collins said. “It would send a message to Mr. Mueller that he has strong support in Congress.”
John Thune, the third-ranking Senate Republican, rejected Trump’s call to shut down Mueller.
"They ought to let them conclude their work," Thune said. "What they are doing is something that is important and we support and I don’t think any efforts to truncate that or somehow shut it down early is in the public’s best interest."
McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have defended Mueller’s investigation in the face of Trump’s attacks but said they don’t believe Trump would fire the special counsel. Lawmakers of both parties have warned Trump that firing Mueller would create a constitutional crisis. Ryan’s spokesman, Doug Andres, said Wednesday that the speaker’s position hasn’t changed.
The president’s message was part of a series of tweets attacking Mueller on the first full day of testimony in Manafort’s tax and bank-fraud trial amid other signs Mueller’s investigation is drawing closer to Trump. Prosecutors are expected to detail Manafort’s lucrative business relationship with Russia-friendly leaders in Ukraine.
Later Wednesday, Trump contrasted Manafort’s treatment to that of the notorious gangster Alphonse Capone, who was convicted of tax evasion in the 1930s, though the president misspelled his name.
“Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and “Public Enemy Number One,” or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement - although convicted of nothing,” Trump tweeted. “Where is the Russian Collusion?”
Manafort is currently in protective custody in Alexandria, Virginia, but officials haven’t said whether it is solitary. When Manafort’s bail was revoked in June over allegations he was trying to influence witnesses, he was placed in what his lawyers called solitary confinement even though he had access to his mobile phone and laptop and told associates he was being treated like a VIP. Manafort opposed his transfer out of the arrangement.
Trump’s tweets also followed a CNN report last week that the president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is prepared to testify that Trump knew in advance about a notorious 2016 meeting between top campaign officials, including his son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Russians who were said to be promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. The president denied the claim in a tweet.
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