President Donald Trump on Sunday took out his frustrations over the intensifying Russia investigation by lashing out at special counsel Robert Mueller, signaling a possible shift away from a strategy of cooperating with a probe he believes is biased against him.
In a series of weekend tweets naming Mueller for the first time, Trump criticized the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and raised fresh concerns about the objectivity and political leanings of the members of Mueller’s team.
Trump also challenged the honesty of Andrew McCabe, the newly fired FBI deputy director, and James Comey, the bureau’s former director whom Trump fired last year over the Russia probe.
The president’s aggressive stance followed a call Saturday by his personal lawyer for Rod Rosenstein, whom Trump appointed as deputy attorney general and who oversees Mueller’s inquiry, to “bring an end” to that investigation.
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, which spent the past year conducting a parallel investigation, recently said they had drafted a report concluding no collusion or coordination between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia. Committee Democrats vehemently disagreed.
“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!” Trump was referring to a dossier of anti-Trump research funded by the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Likely adding to Trump’s growing frustration, The New York Times reported last week that Mueller had subpoenaed the Trump Organization and requested Russia-related documents. Trump had said Mueller would cross a red line with such a step.
“Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans?” Trump tweeted Sunday.
Some of Mueller’s investigators have contributed to Democratic political candidates, but Justice Department policy and federal service law bar discrimination in the hiring of career positions on the basis of political affiliation. Mueller is a Republican.
A deeply frustrated Trump has fumed to confidants that the Mueller probe is “going to choke the life out of” his presidency if allowed to continue unabated indefinitely, according to an outside adviser who insisted on anonymity.
Trump has long believed that the entrenched bureaucracy, particularly at the Justice Department and FBI, is out to thwart him, and has pointed to McCabe’s wife’s associations with Democrats, including longtime Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe, as an example. He also fumed to one confidant after seeing a promotion for Comey’s forthcoming book, and believes the former FBI director will seek to enrich himself by besmirching Trump’s reputation. Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty,” topped Amazon.com’s best-seller list Sunday.
The president has long been torn over how to approach the Mueller probe. Trump insists that his campaign did not collude with Russia, and his legal team has counseled the president to cooperate with Mueller. But some former campaign advisers have urged Trump to be combative, warning him that the investigation poses an existential threat to his presidency.
Trump’s attacks raised new concerns among members of Congress that he could be seeking to orchestrate Mueller’s firing. Republican and Democratic lawmakers warned Trump to not even think about it.
“If he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump ally.
Trump cannot directly fire Mueller, who can only be dismissed for cause.
Trump may have felt emboldened after Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe on Friday. “A great day for Democracy,” Trump tweeted afterward. Trump asserted that McCabe, whose firing he had publicly called for, knew “all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”
The Associated Press reported McCabe kept personal memos detailing interactions with Trump that have been provided to Mueller’s office and are similar to notes compiled by Comey. Trump sought to cast doubt on their veracity.
“Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “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?”
Trump claimed Comey lied under oath at a Senate hearing by saying he had never been an anonymous source. Comey, who is releasing a book next month, tweeted Saturday after McCabe’s firing: “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.”