President Trump on Wednesday for the first time called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to shut down special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia and Trump’s obstruction of the probe.
“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 tweeted. “Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment. In a statement, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, said “the president was expressing his opinion on his favored medium for asserting his First Amendment right of free speech.”
“He said ‘should’ not ‘must’ and no presidential order was issued or will be,” Giuliani added.
At a briefing with reporters Wednesday afternoon, press secretary Sarah Sanders echoed that sentiment.
“It’s not an order. It’s the president’s opinion,” Sanders said. “And it’s ridiculous that all of the corruption and dishonesty that’s gone on with the launching of the witch hunt. The president has watched this process play out but he also wants to see it come to an end, as he’s stated many times. And we look forward to that happening.”
Sanders also disputed the suggestion that Trump’s tweet constitutes obstruction of justice.
“The president is not obstructing, he’s fighting back,” she said. “He’s certainly expressing the frustration he has.”
Mueller, a registered Republican, recently charged 12 Russian intelligence officials in connection with the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee’s computer server — bringing the total number of individual indictments to 32. Five people, including former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and ex-campaign aide George Papadopoulos, have pleaded guilty to charges and are cooperating with Mueller.
Trump has frequently taken his frustration with Mueller’s ongoing investigation out on Sessions, who recused himself from the probe in March 2017 after it was revealed he had had undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador. According to the New York Times, Trump asked Sessions to reverse his decision during a March 2017 meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort — a confrontation that is being investigated by Mueller as part of a potential obstruction case.
The president now says he regrets picking Sessions as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
“The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself,” Trump tweeted in June. “I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined.”
The president has been attacking Mueller and denouncing his investigation for months. But Wednesday’s tweet marks the first time he directly called on Sessions to shutter Mueller’s probe.
Trump’s call also comes as his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is standing trial in Alexandria, Va., on bank and tax fraud charges relating to his work as a political consultant for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party in 2014. Manafort’s indictment was among the first brought by Mueller’s investigation. Manafort faces related federal charges in Washington, D.C., where his trial will begin in September.
“Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion — a Hoax!”
Trump continued to fume on Twitter about the probe, reviving his long-held complaints about former FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, as well as the controversial dossier prepared by British spy Christopher Steele.
“Russian Collusion with the Trump Campaign, one of the most successful in history, is a TOTAL HOAX,” the president tweeted. “The Democrats paid for the phony and discredited Dossier which was, along with Comey, McCabe, Strzok and his lover, the lovely Lisa Page, used to begin the Witch Hunt. Disgraceful!”
Trump’s assertion that the dossier prompted the Russia investigation is false. According to a report released by the House Intelligence Committee in March, the investigation began in July 2016 after authorities receiving a tip from an Australian diplomat who was told by Papadopoulos that Russia had political “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Trump concluded his Twitter rant with an odd comparison.
“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? Where is the Russian Collusion?”
Hunter Walker contributed reporting to this story from Washington
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