WASHINGTON — As President Trump renewed his attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller and former FBI officials, lawmakers warned Sunday that any move to dismiss Mueller would trigger a legal and political crisis over the Russia Investigation.
Trump and aides are now calling on Mueller to end his probe into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election; Trump is also attacking the credibility of two witnesses who are crucial to Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation of the president: Former FBI director James Comey and newly fired deputy director Andrew McCabe.
“Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans?” Trump said during a morning tweet storm. “Another Dem recently added…does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”
Some lawmakers said Trump’s claims may be laying the groundwork for a dismissal of Mueller, and used the Sunday interview shows to warn the president against such a course.
“The president is floating trial balloons about derailing the Mueller investigation,” said Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate’s top Democrat, adding that Republicans have an obligation to “make it clear that firing Mueller is a red line for our democracy that cannot be crossed.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC’s This Week that Congress would likely to respond to a Mueller removal with legislation re-instating the special counsel. “This would undoubtedly result in a constitutional crisis,” he said.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a House intelligence committee member who is generally supportive of Trump, urged Trump and his team to give Mueller “the time, the independence, and the resources” needed to complete the job.
“Let it play out its course,” Gowdy told Fox News Sunday.
Other GOP lawmakers said they don’t expect Trump to make such a move, noting that the special counsel probe has produced indictments and appears on track to gathering facts of Russian involvement in the 2016 election.
“They want him to be able to finish the investigation,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., also speaking on ABC’s This Week. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump ally, told the same program that firing Mueller “would be inappropriate,” and he doesn’t think it will happen.
Trump aides said they do not want a Mueller firing, but do believe it is time for the special counsel to end a Russia investigation that stretches back to the election year.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who dismissed McCabe at 10 p.m. Friday, has recused himself from the Russia investigation. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller and would presumably have the power to remove him.
In calling on Rosenstein to shut down the probe, Trump attorney John Dowd cited the dismissal of McCabe as well as a much-disputed dossier that makes unproven claims about Trump campaign cooperation with Russians who used to hacks and fake news to spread negative attacks on 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Dowd called on Rosenstein to “bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.”
Last week, Rosenstein told USA TODAY that there is no reason to dismiss Mueller, saying “the special counsel is not an unguided missile .. I don’t believe there is any justification at this point for terminating the special counsel.”
More: Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, says Robert Mueller is ‘not an unguided missile’
The rhetorical escalation came the weekend that Sessions fired McCabe just two days before the FBI official was set to retire, and be in a position to collect full benefits.
Sessions said that McCabe made “an unauthorized disclosure to the news media” in connection with email investigation of Clinton, and that he “lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions” in discussing the incident during a Justice Department review.
McCabe said Trump had him removed as part of an effort to undermine federal law enforcement in general and the Russia investigation in particular. In a statement, McCabe also said he has been a witness to Trump’s 2017 decision to fire Comey as FBI director, an event central to the obstruction of justice investigation.
“It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day,” McCabe said. “Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work.”
While Trump hailed McCabe’s dismissal as a great day for the FBI, Comey defended his former deputy and sent a warning to the president.
“Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon,” Comey tweeted over the weekend. “And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.”
Comey’s book — A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership— is scheduled to be published in mid-April.
During his Sunday morning tweet storm, Trump challenged news reports that McCabe has notes taken during the time of Comey’s firing. Trump tweeted that he “spent very little time” with McCabe, and “he never took notes when he was with me.”
He added: “I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?”
More: FBI’s Andrew McCabe fired days before retirement; Trump applauds Sessions’ move
More: In war of words with Trump, fired FBI’s McCabe says he will no longer be silent
In another tweet, Trump cited reports that McCabe said his interactions with the media were approved by superiors, but Comey testified to Congress that there were no news leaks during the Clinton investigation. In congressional testimony, Comey said he never authorized anybody to be an anonymous source.
Trump claimed Comey lied in that interaction.
All this took place amid other activities surrounding the Russia investigation. They include:
• Ongoing negotiations between Mueller’s office and Trump’s personal attorneys for possible testimony from the president about matters under investigation by the special counsel’s office.
• News reports that Mueller’s office has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records somehow related to the 2016 investigation; Trump had said that a Mueller probe of his business dealings would be a red line for him that should not be crossed.
More: Trump Organization hit with subpoena by special counsel Robert Mueller for documents
•– A report in The New York Times that Mueller has demanded emails from the data firm Cambridge Analytica, some of whose employees worked with the Trump campaign team.
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