Despite intensifying criticism from the president, the White House is denying Donald Trump intends to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting a criminal investigation of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign’s links to Russia.
“There are no conversations or discussions about removing Mr. Mueller,” deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters Monday on Air Force One.
The spokesman acknowledged the president’s “well-established frustration” with the criminal investigation into whether Trump’s campaign had improper contacts with the Russians.
“The president believes this is the biggest witch hunt in history,” Gidley said, echoing a tweet Trump issued earlier in the day.
In the tweets, Trump for the first time publicly attacked Mueller’s investigation, and accused James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, of political bias.
The targeting of Mueller on social media by Trump has raised concern the president could remove him, which could prompt a constitutional crisis for the United States, according to some lawmakers, legal analysts and presidential historians.
In a tweet to members of Congress, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said, “If the President causes a constitutional crisis by firing Mueller, no one can credibly claim that they could not see it coming. The time to speak out, to defend our system of checks and balances, is now.”
Three Democratic Party U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Michael Bennet (Colorado) and Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire) in recent days have also warned of such a crisis if the president attempts to shut down the special counsel’s investigation.
Some prominent Republican lawmakers were cautioning the president not to take such action.
“Leave it alone,” was Sen. Orrin Hatch’s advice to Trump.
“He has the right to do it, but it would be tremendously bad publicity,” the Republican from the state of Utah said in response Monday to a question from VOA News. “And it’s not worth it. I mean, Mueller is an honest man. If he were doing things that are dishonest or improper, that’s another matter. But he hasn’t been.”
The second-highest ranking Republican in the senate, John Cornyn of Texas, agreed it would be a “mistake” for Trump to fire Mueller as it “would produce all sorts of unintended consequences.”
Reporters on the White House South Lawn shouted questions about the special counsel at Trump on Monday as he departed and returned on the Marine One helicopter, but he did not answer.
Trump also made no reference to the investigation during a speech in the state of New Hampshire about combating the opioid crisis in America.
Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers have given the special counsel’s office written descriptions that chronicle key moments under investigation, in hopes of curtailing the scope of a presidential interview, according to The Washington Post, citing two people familiar with the situation.
Trump’s attorneys, according to the Post, are worried that Trump, who has a penchant for making erroneous claims, would be vulnerable in an hours-long interview.
In one tweet Sunday recalling his 2016 election victory against Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump said, “Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added … does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”
Mueller has been a registered Republican and was named FBI director in 2001 by Republican President George W. Bush.
Mueller is generally viewed in Washington as an apolitical prosecutor, whose investigation of the Trump campaign is supported by Democrats and key Republicans, some of whom voiced their support on Sunday news shows for his handling of the probe.
On Saturday, Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, suggested that deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel, “bring an end” to Mueller’s investigation, resulting in media speculation about Trump’s next move regarding the probe.
Trump also attacked Comey, who was fired by Trump last May, and former deputy director Andrew McCabe, dismissed at Trump’s urging late Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, 26 hours before McCabe was set to retire and collect his full pension.
Trump contends that Comey’s and McCabe’s personal written recollections of their conversations with him are fabricated.
VOA’s Michael Bowman on Capitol Hill contributed to this story.