Trump denies wanting to fire Mueller
President Donald Trump discussed firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with White House aides on Wednesday, a person familiar with the matter said, as a chorus of Trump’s advisers and allies urged him to thwart the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Egged on by some of his strongest supporters, Trump has taken an increasingly combative posture toward Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation after FBI agents descended on the office and home of his lawyer Michael Cohen on Monday. But he denied trying to dismiss Mueller last year in a Twitter posting Thursday.
"If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by the Failing New York Times, I would have fired him," Trump said. "Just more Fake News from a biased newspaper!"
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former strategist, said he has told White House officials that the president should fire both his lawyer Ty Cobb and Rosenstein to cripple Mueller’s inquiry.
Bannon said that Trump should stop cooperating with Mueller and assert executive privilege to silence aides who might speak with the special counsel – even retroactively, for those who’ve already been interviewed.
Other supporters of the president made their arguments on television. Roger Stone, a sometime Trump confidant, told ABC News on Wednesday that Trump should fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein. Joe diGenova, an attorney who was nearly added to Trump’s legal team last month, said on Fox News that Sessions should fire Rosenstein.
“They crossed the red line by subpoenaing the Trump Organization records and doing the raid on Michael Cohen,” Bannon told Bloomberg News in an interview. “They’re into dark territory now. So let’s make this political, shift this thing back to Capitol Hill, take the moral high ground. Let’s take a delaying action and give voters an up-or-down vote on Trump in November.”
Bannon’s plan illustrates the conflicts swirling around Trump following the search of Cohen’s properties, which infuriated the president and raised speculation he might seek to fire Mueller, Rosenstein or both men. While congressional Republicans have warned Trump not to act against the Justice Department, many of Trump’s allies outside the White House are agitating for a more aggressive posture.
Trump may be listening. In tweets and public statements since the Cohen search, he has assailed Mueller, calling the Russia probe “disgraceful” and an “attack on our country.” Trump has criticized Rosenstein and Sessions as well, who he has suggested deceived and betrayed him by recusing himself from supervising the investigation.
“The fact is Rod Rosenstein has not done his job. He has not supervised Mueller. This whole thing is an absurdity,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, another Trump ally, said on Fox News on Wednesday.
It was Trump who appointed Rosenstein to his post, and his removal would trigger a risky and uncertain sequence of events for the president.
Rosenstein’s firing isn’t a certainty, the person familiar with Trump’s discussions said, but rather an idea Trump is mulling given the criticism of the deputy attorney general he has heard from allies, TV commentators and some congressional Republicans.
Several House Republicans led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes of California blame Rosenstein for withholding a Justice Department document that might have sparked the FBI’s investigation of contacts between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government.
The Justice Department allowed Nunes and other lawmakers to review a slightly redacted version of the document on Wednesday, a move that may have averted an effort by the Republicans to pursue contempt proceedings against Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
“You have to get rid of Rosenstein, maybe Mueller, and Ty Cobb,” Bannon said. “Get this into the political process. You can’t fight on the Michael Cohen thing every day.”
Bannon said that Cobb, who has urged Trump to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, has provided the president with bad legal advice. Cobb declined to comment.
Bannon said believes that invoking executive privilege would hobble the investigation, shifting it back to Congress, and rally Trump’s base voters before crucial midterm elections in November.
DiGenova also said that Trump should cease cooperation with the special counsel. He spoke on the Fox News show “Hannity,” a program Trump promoted in a tweet earlier in the evening. “Big show tonight,” he said.
Trump fired Bannon last year and their relationship was further damaged by the strategist’s cooperation with a critical book on the president published in January, Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury.” Bannon, who helped lead the Trump campaign to victory in 2016, hasn’t spoken with the president about his strategy to cripple Mueller’s inquiry, and he would not name the White House officials he has briefed.
His plan was reported earlier by the Washington Post.
Stone told ABC News, “I’m not recommending the firing of Mr. Mueller, but I am recommending a housecleaning at his Justice Department.” He told Bloomberg News that he also has not spoken directly with Trump about his DOJ recommendations.
Some of Trump’s top advisers, including White House counsel Don McGahn, are concerned that a move to fire Rosenstein or Mueller could prompt mass resignations at the Justice Department and spark a constitutional crisis, the Post reported.
Bannon and Trump
Bannon is sensitive about directly approaching Trump with his proposal to fire Rosenstein because federal investigators could raise questions about those exchanges, the Post reported, citing unnamed people familiar with the discussions.
But Bannon and Trump also have a particularly strained relationship.
Wolff reported in his book that Bannon labeled as “treasonous” Donald Trump Jr.’s and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s 2016 meeting with Russian nationals in which the president’s son expected to receive dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton. Wolff also reported that Bannon called Trump’s daughter Ivanka “dumb as a brick.”
Trump has been told by at least one adviser that Bannon’s comments in the book are to blame for dragging out Mueller’s investigation because the remarks triggered additional interviews with witnesses.
After "Fire and Fury" was published, the White House pressured Trump’s allies to sever ties with Bannon. He stepped down as executive chairman of Breitbart News after losing the support of the Mercer family, his closest financial patrons, after Trump spoke with Rebekah Mercer by phone.