President Donald Trump has no intention to fire Robert Mueller, the former FBI director in charge of investigating Russia’s US-election meddling, the White House said Tuesday.
“While the president has the right to, he has no intention to do so,” said deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a press briefing aboard Air Force One on Tuesday evening.
The president is nonetheless angered by the probe, which he has described as a “witch hunt,” The New York Times reported. The Times reported Trump has been bothered by conservative news reports that Mueller was close to fired FBI director James Comey.
White House staffers made a concerted effort to talk Trump down from ordering that Mueller be fired, the paper said.
Mueller, who was appointed to oversee the investigation last month, was roundly praised by Democrats and Republicans as the right person for the job, but Trump was not pleased. After Mueller’s appointment was announced last month, Trump floated the idea of firing him, but staffers sought to squash the idea, which they believed would “turn a bad situation into a catastrophe,” The Times reported.
Trump was apparently bothered by reports from conservative outlets like Breitbart News that attempted to link Mueller to Comey, the FBI director Trump fired the same month.
Comey testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that he gave one of his associates, a Columbia professor, permission to share information from memos Comey wrote about his private conversations with Trump. Comey told senators he thought publicizing the contents of those memos would prompt the appointment of a special counsel in the Russia investigation.
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Trump has made it clear that he is frustrated by the US probe of Russian interference in the presidential election, which US intelligence officials said was done to tilt the outcome in Trump’s favor. Investigators are also probing whether any Trump campaign associates colluded with Russian officials.
Trump, according to The Times, has brought up the legal and political implications of firing Mueller, whom he thinks is “incapable of an impartial investigation.”
White House staffers have nonetheless sought to talk Trump down from the idea.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in separate testimony Tuesday that there was no “secret plan” to fire Mueller, nor was there cause.
Mueller was already granted a waiver by the Justice Department to lead the probe despite a possible conflict of interest stemming from his law firm’s representation of some of the people caught up in the investigation, including former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.
Despite that, Trump is stewing over the Mueller-led investigation in the same way he did with Comey.
The Times boiled down Trump’s thinking:
“For Mr. Trump, the line between whim and will is always thin. It is often erased in moments of anger, when simmering grievance boils over into rash action, exemplified by the firing of Mr. Comey after a weekend of brooding at his resort in Bedminster, N.J.”
Neither Trump nor Attorney General Jeff Sessions have offered public support for Mueller. Sessions recused himself from Trump campaign-related investigations in February.
Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, said on Tuesday: “As long as I’m in this position, he’s not going to be fired without good cause.”