WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sarah Sanders spent much of her briefing on Wednesday facing questions about a tweet President Trump sent earlier in the day saying Attorney General Jeff Sessions “should stop” special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election.
Sanders stressed Trump’s tweets were “not an order” but instead reflected “the president’s opinion.” Her comments echoed a statement made earlier in the day by Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, who argued the tweet did not constitute obstruction of justice because the president “said ‘should’ not ‘must’ and no presidential order was issued or will be.”
Federal law says “any threatening letter or communication” designed to influence or impede a criminal investigation constitutes obstruction of justice. Sanders didn’t directly address a question asking whether Giuliani was giving Trump legal advice on his tweets and if the president’s legal team agreed his tweets were not obstructing justice.
“Look, the president is not obstructing, he’s fighting back. The president is stating his opinion. He’s stating it clearly,” Sanders said.
Trump has previously used the phrase “fight back” to describe his response to the Mueller probe and observers have previously suggested that comment could be seen as potential admission of obstruction.
Sanders expressed the belief there is “corruption” in the special counsel probe. She cited a trio of FBI officials that Trump and his allies have accused of being biased against him.
“He’s certainly expressing the frustration that he has with the level of corruption we’ve seen from people like Jim Comey, Peter Strzok, Andrew McCabe,” Sanders said of Trump. “There’s a reason that the president’s angry and, frankly, most of America Is angry as well. And there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to voice that opinion.”
Mueller’s investigation has led to the indictments of multiple Russian intelligence officers who were allegedly involved with cyberattacks that targeted the Democratic Party and Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton. The special counsel is also looking into whether Trump or his allies worked with the Russians. Mueller’s probe has resulted in indictments against multiple former Trump campaign officials.
The investigation also includes the question of whether Trump has engaged in obstruction and Mueller is reportedly reviewing the president’s tweets to determine whether any constitute a potentially illegal effort to interfere.
Trump has repeatedly denied his campaign worked with Russia, though in recent days he and Giuliani have both expressed the view collusion would not have been illegal even if it occurred. The president has also dismissed the probe as a “witch hunt” and accused Mueller of having unspecified conflicts of interest.
Speaking to reporters in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Giuliani dismissed the notion Trump was obstructing justice.
“That’s why this whole obstruction of justice thing is nonsense. If he wanted to obstruct, he’d obstruct it, and he could just end it. And then you’d all battle whether he has the legal right to do that, which I think he does. But he’s not going to do that,” Giuliani said. “He’s made it clear that he wants it to run its course.”
Giuliani has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Yahoo News.
At the briefing on Wednesday, Sanders echoed the view the investigation is a “witch hunt.” She also said Trump “wants to see it come to an end” quickly.
“We certainly think it should be completed,” Sanders said of the investigation. “We’d like it to be complete sooner rather than later. It’s gone on for an extensive amount of time. They’ve still come up with nothing in regards to the president.”
Asked to explain her view that there is rampant “corruption” in the Mueller investigation, Sanders said the probe was entirely based on a dossier compiled by an ex-British spy, Christopher Steele, who had been paid to conduct research by Democrats and rivals of Trump during the election.
“The entire investigation is based off a dirty discredited dossier that was paid for by an opposing campaign,” she said.
In fact, the FBI investigation began in July 2016 when U.S. law enforcement became aware that a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, had bragged to an Australian diplomat that Russia was giving Trump’s team damaging information about Clinton. Late last year, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and he is now cooperating with the probe.
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