Washington: President Donald Trump has been advised he has authority to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, a White House spokeswoman said, as top Republicans in Congress warned that doing so may put his presidency at risk.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday shifted the administration’s message on Trump’s attitude toward Mueller after the president’s angry response to a raid on the office of his longtime lawyer.
“We’ve been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision," she said, in a response to a question that suggests the White House has explored the matter. Three weeks ago, when asked about Republicans warning against interfering with the investigation, Sanders repeated a statement by Trump attorney Ty Cobb that Trump “is not considering or discussing" firing Mueller.
As Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference accelerates and drew closer to the president’s inner circle with the raid Monday his lawyer’s office and hotel room, the president lashed out, calling the probe “a disgrace" and “an attack on our country." Asked whether he would fire Mueller, Trump said, “We’ll see what happens."
That prompted new warnings from senior Republicans in Congress who said that it would be a major mistake or even political suicide to fire Mueller.
“I don’t think the president’s going to fire him. That would be a big mistake," John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Senate Republican, said Tuesday.
Cornyn declined to say how Congress would react to a Mueller firing or whether that might trigger impeachment proceedings against Trump. “I don’t think he or I or anybody could predict what the consequences might be. So I think, just let Mr. Mueller do his job."
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said earlier on the Fox Business Network that “it would be suicide for the president to want to talk about firing Mueller.
“The main thing here is I have confidence in Mueller, the president ought to have confidence in Mueller," Grassley said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Mueller should “be allowed to finish the job."
The execution of search warrants at the office and hotel room of longtime Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen marked a new phase in the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign collaborated with the Russians. It came as a result of evidence that Mueller’s team of prosecutors obtained, but the US attorney for the Southern District of New York was responsible for the raid.
The FBI seized records relating to Karen McDougal, the former Playmate who said she had a 10-month affair with Trump, and Stephanie Clifford, the porn star known as Stormy Daniels, who said she had sex with Trump once, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Both McDougal and Clifford signed non-disclosure agreements just before Trump’s election in 2016, with Daniels taking $130,000 from Cohen and McDougal accepting $150,000 from American Media Inc., owner of the National Enquirer.
Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, a Republican sponsor of a bipartisan bill written to protect Mueller, said Tuesday he wants the Judiciary Committee to act on the legislation now.
Tillis also said he is discussing how to merge that bill, which he co-sponsors with Delaware Democrat Chris Coons, with a competing bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat. The two bills take different approaches in protecting Mueller, but neither has moved forward as Republican leaders have called it unnecessary.
The Tillis-Coons proposal would allow special counsels to contest their firings before a three-judge panel, which can order reinstatement. The bill from Graham and Booker would require that any action by the attorney general or acting attorney general to remove a special counsel from office must first be reviewed by a panel of federal judges.
Two senior Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner of Virginia, said Tuesday that firing Mueller would cross a line with Congress. Schumer, during a speech on the Senate floor, called for passage of legislation to prevent Mueller from being removed.
Later Tuesday, Schumer reiterated to reporters that while Republicans for months have claimed there is no reason to pass legislation to protect Mueller, “Let’s not wait until it’s too late."
“Why not pass the legislation now and avoid a constitutional crisis?" he said.
Warner, talking to reporters, said he would not be “lured" into talking about impeachment at this point. But he said he has been saying the president firing Mueller, or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, or pardoning Trump family members, “is a red line that can’t be crossed."
“And my hope would be that this president would take advice from his own Republican senators who said those actions would start the beginning of the end of his presidency," Warner said. Bloomberg