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Trump says he won’t fire Mueller as allies step up attacks on probe

The Washington Post

December 17. 2017 8:37PM
Former FBI director Robert Mueller attends the ceremonial swearing-in of FBI Director James Comey at the FBI Headquarters Oct. 28, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday sought to douse speculation that he may fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller amid an intensifying campaign by Trump allies to attack the wide-ranging Russia investigation as improper and politically motivated.

Returning to the White House from Camp David, Trump was asked Sunday whether he intended to fire Mueller. “No, I’m not,” he told journalists, insisting that there was “no collusion whatsoever” between his campaign and Russia.

The President’s comments came a day after a lawyer representing Trump’s transition team accused Mueller of wrongfully obtaining thousands of emails sent and received by Trump officials before the start of his administration — a legal and public relations maneuver seen as possibly laying the groundwork to oust the special counsel.

Trump criticized Mueller for gaining access to those emails, telling reporters the situation was “not looking good.”

“It’s quite sad to see that,” Trump said. “My people were very upset about it.”

Mueller’s spokesman denied any wrongdoing, and some legal experts questioned the claim that the emails were improperly obtained.

The outcry over Mueller’s probe into Russia’s 2016 election interference grew louder over the weekend among Trump loyalists and conservative media figures. Although Trump has publicly and privately criticized the Department of Justice and the FBI and voiced displeasure with his appointees there, the President’s advisers insisted he is not aiming his ire at Mueller.

“As the White House has repeatedly and emphatically said for months, there is no consideration about firing or replacing the special counsel with whom the White House has fully coop a White House lawyer overseeing the Russia matter, said Sunday a statement.

Trump’s lawyers, who have been assuring the President that Mueller’s investigation is poised to wrap up by January or so, are scheduled to meet with Mueller’s team later this week for a routine status conference. They are expected to ask the special counsel if there are any other outstanding questions or materials that investigators need before concluding the probe.

As the special counsel has inched closer to Trump with a series of indictments and guilty pleas, including securing the cooperation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the President’s defenders have spotlighted examples of political bias among two senior FBI officials as proof of a compromised investigation.

FBI lawyer Lisa Page and counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, who worked on the Russia investigation , were removed from Mueller’s team after text messages surfaced in which they discussed their dislike of Trump and support of Democrat HIllary Clinton. Their text messages were released by the Justice Department last week and are still under review..

Some Trump surrogates have said the texts show that Mueller’s investigation is partisan.

“It looks more and more and more like an attack on the Presidency,” former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo said Sunday. “I still don’t believe Mueller is in for a silent coup, but I think people around him have shown that this thing is off the rails. . . . These texts and emails were a declaration of their membership in the resistance.”

The attacks have fed speculation about Mueller’s fate. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., told a California television station on Friday that “the rumor” on Capitol Hill is that Trump would fire Mueller at the end of this week, as Congress disperses for a holiday break.

Liberal activist groups have readied mass protests in the event that Mueller is fired. The sprawling “Trump Is Not Above the Law” coalition now has more than 400 demonstrations ready to launch nationwide. Were Mueller to be fired in the morning, events would be held at 5 p.m. local time; if he were fired in the afternoon or evening, protests would kick off at noon the following day.

Trump’s aides said the rumors are nonsense. Asked whether the Trump transition team lawyer’s complaint was setting the stage for firing Mueller, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short replied, “No!”

“There is no conversation about that whatsoever in the White House,” Short said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump did not mention firing the counsel when they had dinner Saturday. night. “I don’t have any reason to think that the President is going to do that, but that’s obviously up to him,” he said.

Advisers who have spoken recently with Trump about the Russia investigation said the President was sharply critical of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller operation — but did not broach the idea of firing Mueller.

“I think he realizes that would be a step too far,” said one adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a private conversation.

Rather, Trump appeared to be contemplating Justice Department leadership changes. In recent discussions, two advisers said, Trump has called the attorney general “weak,” and complained that Rosenstein has shown insufficient accountability on the special counsel’s work. Trump has ranted about Rosenstein as “a Democrat,” one of these advisers said, and characterized him as a threat to his Presidency.

In fact, Rosenstein is a Republican. In 2005, President George W. Bush nominated him to be U.S. attorney in Maryland.


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