Trump Lashes Out at Top Justice Official, Confirms He's Focus of ProbeBy
Tweet targets ‘the man who told me to fire the FBI Director’
President’s latest musing continues attack on investigations
President Donald Trump lashed out at the Justice Department official with authority over the special counsel probe of Russian election-meddling, and acknowledged that his firing of James Comey as FBI director is a focus of the investigation.
“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director!” Trump said on Twitter on Friday. “Witch Hunt.” The tweet marked the first time Trump has publicly acknowledged that he is under investigation.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote the memo that Trump initially cited as his reason to justify Comey’s dismissal in May, which is now being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller was appointed by Rosenstein.
Further complicating the situation, Rosenstein has told colleagues he may have to recuse himself from the matter because of the memo, a step that would shift responsibility for overseeing Mueller to Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, the Justice Department’s third-ranking official. The possibility was described by a U.S. official who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter. ABC News reported Rosenstein’s potential recusal earlier.
Trump fired off the tweet to his 32.4 million followers as the investigation into his conduct widened, and the White House and its allies have been escalating attacks on the special counsel. The message shows Trump, 71, rebuffing advice from Republican congressional leaders to tamp down his rhetoric on social media.
Although administration officials tried earlier this week tried to counter speculation that the president might try to fire Mueller, the Trump camp’s criticism of the special counsel led lawmakers of both parties to warn Trump Tuesday against doing so.
News reports surfaced this week that Mueller has expanded his probe on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and is planning to interview intelligence officials about whether Trump tried to impede an FBI investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Those reports, confirmed to Bloomberg by three people familiar with the interview requests, suggest a possible probe of Trump for obstruction of justice.
The Washington Post late Thursday reported that Mueller also is looking into the finances and business dealings of Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner as part of the investigation. The paper cited unidentified officials familiar with the matter.
Trump also faces a growing threat on Capitol Hill. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and top-ranking Democrat, Dianne Feinstein of California, are hammering out an agreement to launch a bipartisan investigation of Trump’s firing of Comey that Democrats say should examine possible obstruction of justice. The Senate and House intelligence committees already are examining Russian interference in the election.
Feinstein said Friday she’s “increasingly concerned” that Trump may try to dismiss 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,” Feinstein said in a statement. “That’s undemocratic on its face and a blatant violation of the president’s oath of office.”
The White House referred questions to Trump’s personal counsel. Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the president’s legal team, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Trump’s latest tweet. Rosenstein declined to comment.
Rosenstein told senators Tuesday that only he, not the president, can fire Mueller, and that the former FBI director has done nothing to warrant dismissal. He told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee there would need to be “good cause” to dismiss the special counsel.
“I appointed him. I stand by that decision,” said Rosenstein. “I’m going to defend the integrity of that investigation.”
Rosenstein, 52, a long-time federal prosecutor who took charge of the Russia investigation when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself in March, appeared to express frustration Thursday about continuous leaks about the probe.
“Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,”’ he said in a statement. “Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations.”
Trump has taken to Twitter this week to repeatedly attack officials investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, lashing out at reports that the probe has widened to include potential obstruction of justice.
“You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history - led by some very bad and conflicted people! #MAGA,” Trump tweeted on Thursday morning.
‘Phony Collusion’ Story
Trump tweeted his displeasure that the investigation could now include an inquiry about obstruction of justice.
“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story,” he said Thursday on Twitter. “Nice.”
Trump’s tweets attacking Mueller’s investigation come after several of his confidants have criticized the probe and the people leading it.
The White House said Thursday that Trump was not considering firing Mueller. “He has no intention to make any changes whatsoever on that front,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
— With assistance by Chris Strohm