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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Tuesday that he isn’t involved in any secret plan to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.
Rosenstein made the remark at a hearing before the House and Senate Budget Appropriations Committees after being asked by Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma if such a plan was being floated.
In a separate exchange with Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Rosenstein said he found no good cause to fire Mueller.
Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in mid-May as special counsel overseeing the the investigation into whether the President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials during the 2016 election, noted that under the special counsel regulations, only the attorney general has the authority to fire such an appointee.
And with Attorney General Jeff Sessions having recused himself from all Russia-related matters, that responsibility would fall on Rosenstein, who said he is “confident” Mueller “has full independence” to conduct the investigation.
“And you have my assurance that we are going to faithfully follow that regulation and … Mueller is going to have the full degree of independence he needs to conduct that investigation appropriately,” Rosenstein said.
The questioning about whether the White House was seeking to oust Mueller came as top conservative boosters of Trump sought to delegitimize Mueller, a former FBI director who took the special counsel job after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
Additionally, Newsmax CEO and Trump confidant Chris Ruddy told PBS “NewsHour” Monday night that Trump was considering firing Mueller, which he said would be a “very significant mistake.” Ruddy had visited the West Wing earlier Monday.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to Ruddy in a statement, saying Ruddy “never spoke to the president regarding this issue.”
“With respect to this subject, only the president or his attorneys are authorized to comment,” he continued.
Ruddy fired back Tuesday morning to Politico, saying in an email that Spicer’s statement “doesn’t deny my claim the President is considering firing Mueller” and “says I didn’t speak to the president about the matter – when I never claimed to have done so.”
Speaking from the Senate floor Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was “frankly disturbed” by Trump’s “hard right” supporters attempting to “discredit” Mueller and “sully his reputation.”
“Their strategy is clear: they know or suspect the facts might not be good for the president, so they’re trying to vilify the man who’s in charge of finding them,” the New York Democrat said. “But they’ve chosen the wrong man. Anyone who engages in these baseless attacks about Mr. Mueller’s character is only heaping dishonor upon themselves. Mueller his known for his service to America, for his integrity, he’s a straight arrow. He’s a Republican.”
The targeting of Mueller’s credibility among some of Trump’s most prominent supporters began after Comey’s testimony last week. The former FBI director detailed some of his private conversations with Trump and accused Trump of asking him to drop an investigation into the Russian connections of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Trump’s allies now claim the results Mueller comes up with in the Russia investigation will be tainted and biased.