Tweets re­vive spec­u­la­tion Trump may fire Mueller

Pres­i­dent lashes out at deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, de­nounc­ing widen­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion as a ‘Witch Hunt.’

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHAEL A. ME­MOLI AND SARAH D. WIRE

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Trump at­tacked a top of­fi­cial in his own Jus­tice Depart­ment on Fri­day, and in the process ap­peared to con­firm re­ports that he is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion on sus­pi­cion of ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

It was the lat­est ex­am­ple of the pres­i­dent mov­ing to pub­licly un­der­mine an in­ves­ti­ga­tion he has crit­i­cized as po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

But Trump’s con­fronta­tional style has also re­newed fears that he may at­tempt to de­rail the in­quiry by fir­ing those lead­ing it.

In one of a se­ries of morn­ing Twit­ter posts, he com­plained he was “be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for fir­ing the FBI Di­rec­tor by the man who told me to fire the FBI Di­rec­tor! Witch Hunt.”

Trump is prob­a­bly point­ing to Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosen­stein, who named Robert S. Mueller III as a spe­cial coun­sel last month to over­see the in­quiry into Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported Wednesday that Mueller has ex­panded that in­ves­ti­ga­tion to in­clude whether Trump at­tempted to ob­struct the in­quiry by fir­ing FBI Di­rec­tor James. B. Comey.

Rosen­stein told a Se­nate panel this week that he hadn’t spo­ken to Mueller about the sub­stance of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion since he ap­pointed him, adding that Mueller should make his own de­ter­mi­na­tions about what is within the scope of it.

Rosen­stein ap­pointed Mueller af­ter Trump’s de­ci­sion to fire Comey, which the White House ini­tially said was largely based on a memo writ­ten by Rosen­stein out-

lin­ing con­cerns about Comey’s lead­er­ship — but that never ex­plic­itly rec­om­mended his ter­mi­na­tion, de­spite what the pres­i­dent’s tweet Fri­day sug­gests.

Trump told NBC News in an in­ter­view last month that he was plan­ning to fire Comey any­way, in­de­pen­dent of Rosen­stein’s memo.

White House of­fi­cials would not com­ment on whether Trump was con­firm­ing a pos­si­ble ob­struc­tion-of-jus­tice case against him or sim­ply com­ment­ing on re­ports of one, re­fer­ring all ques­tions to his per­sonal at­tor­ney. But it was an­other ex­am­ple of him com­ment­ing about the larger in­ves­ti­ga­tion in a way that frus­trates his per­sonal at­tor­neys and ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials.

It also comes amid spec­u­la­tion that Trump is con­sid­er­ing fir­ing Mueller — a course of ac­tion con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans are widely ad­vis­ing against, though some Trump al­lies, in­clud­ing for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, sup­port.

On Mon­day, Christo­pher Ruddy, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of News­max Me­dia and a Trump as­so­ciate, told PBS’ “New­sHour” that Trump was weigh­ing whether to fire Mueller. The news set off a firestorm of crit­i­cism and warn­ings from both Democrats and Repub­li­cans.

Af­ter ini­tially de­clin­ing to deny the re­port, the next day White House spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said, “While the pres­i­dent has the right to, he has no in­ten­tion to do so.”

Trump’s tweet Fri­day ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to Rosen­stein, who was ap­pointed by Trump and over­whelm­ingly con­firmed by the Repub­li­can-led Se­nate, comes af­ter the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral is­sued a cryptic state­ment Thurs­day night ad­vis­ing Amer­i­cans to “ex­er­cise cau­tion be­fore ac­cept­ing as true any sto­ries at­trib­uted to anony­mous ‘of­fi­cials.’”

That state­ment ap­peared to be linked to a sep­a­rate re­port that Mueller is also in­ves­ti­gat­ing the busi­ness deal­ings of the pres­i­dent’s son-in-law, se­nior ad­vi­sor Jared Kush­ner.

Also Fri­day, the Jus­tice Depart­ment said Rosen­stein saw no rea­son now to re­cuse him­self from su­per­vis­ing Mueller.

“As the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral has said nu­mer­ous times, if there comes a time when he needs to re­cuse, he will,” said depart­ment spokesman Ian Prior. “How­ever, noth­ing has changed.”

The state­ment came af­ter ABC News re­ported that Rosen­stein had dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity that he might have to step aside from over­see­ing the spe­cial coun­sel’s of­fice be­cause of his role in Comey’s fir­ing.

Trump’s lat­est tweets have Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein (D-Calif.) con­cerned that he will try to fire both Mueller and Rosen­stein.

“The mes­sage the pres­i­dent is send­ing through his tweets is that he be­lieves the rule of law doesn’t ap­ply to him and that any­one who thinks oth­er­wise will be fired. That’s un­demo­cratic on its face and a bla­tant vi­o­la­tion of the pres­i­dent’s oath of of­fice,” Fe­in­stein said in a state­ment Fri­day.

“It’s be­com­ing clear to me that the pres­i­dent has em­barked on an ef­fort to un­der­mine any­one with the abil­ity to bring any mis­deeds to light, be that Congress, the me­dia or the Jus­tice Depart­ment. The Se­nate should not let that hap­pen. We’re a na­tion of laws that ap­ply equally to every­one, a les­son the pres­i­dent would be wise to learn,” she said.

Fe­in­stein stressed that only Rosen­stein has the author­ity to fire Mueller, not the pres­i­dent.

“If the pres­i­dent thinks he can fire Deputy Atty. Gen. Rosen­stein and re­place him with some­one who will shut down the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he’s in for a rude awak­en­ing. Even his staunch­est sup­port­ers will balk at such a bla­tant ef­fort to sub­vert the law,” Fe­in­stein said.

Mean­while, the in­quiry con­tin­ues to pose le­gal chal­lenges to those in the ad­min­is­tra­tion. A spokesman for Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence said Thurs­day that Pence had hired an ex­pe­ri­enced crim­i­nal lawyer to re­spond to re­quests from the spe­cial coun­sel and con­gres­sional com­mit­tees.

Richard Cullen, a for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor and cur­rently chair­man of the McGuireWoods law firm, will help Pence han­dle in­quiries from Mueller, said Jar­rod Agen, Pence’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, in a state­ment.

Pence, who joined Trump in Mi­ami on Fri­day, told a re­porter that the move was “very rou­tine.”

In re­cent days, Mueller re­port­edly has asked to talk to se­nior Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials as the team of in­ves­ti­ga­tors looks into whether peo­ple work­ing on Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign col­luded with Rus­sian of­fi­cials to in­ter­fere in the elec­tion process.

“The vice pres­i­dent is fo­cused en­tirely on his du­ties and pro­mot­ing the pres­i­dent’s agenda and looks for­ward to a swift con­clu­sion of this mat­ter,” Agen said.

In late May, Trump hired Marc Ka­sowitz to han­dle le­gal and me­dia re­quests about the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Michael Co­hen, one of Trump’s per­sonal at­tor­neys, has hired Stephen M. Ryan, a Wash­ing­ton-based lawyer from McDer­mott, Will & Emery, who has ex­pe­ri­ence pros­e­cut­ing crim­i­nal cases as an as­sis­tant U.S. at­tor­ney, ac­cord­ing to NBC News.

J. Scott Applewhite As­so­ci­ated Press

ROBERT S. MUELLER III is said to be at risk of fir­ing as spe­cial coun­sel amid re­ports that he’s look­ing into the pres­i­dent’s pos­si­ble ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

Alex Bran­don As­so­ci­ated Press

ROD ROSEN­STEIN, deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, has re­port­edly weighed hand­ing off over­sight of the spe­cial coun­sel’s of­fice due to his part in Comey’s fir­ing.

Alex Bran­don As­so­ci­ated Press

JAMES B. COMEY, ex-FBI di­rec­tor, be­came cen­tral to the in­quiry into Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence and the Trump cam­paign when the pres­i­dent fired him.

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