WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Donald Trump's personal lawyer called for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to end, hours after the former FBI deputy director was fired by Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.
The statement was a dramatic shift from the Trump legal team's previous commitment to fully cooperate with Mueller.
Trump's lawyers have asserted in the past - and Trump said again on Saturday - that the president's campaign didn't collude with the Russian government, and predicted that the probe would be complete by now. Democrats warned the president against trying to shut down the probe.
"Just end it on the merits in light of recent revelations," Trump attorney John Dowd said in an emailed statement on Saturday (March 17).
Sessions late on Friday night fired Andrew McCabe, a favourite target for Trump and Republicans, two days before the FBI official was to retire at age 50 with full pension benefits.
Trump celebrated the move on Twitter as a "a great day for Democracy."
Expectations for the firing to trigger a new phase in the Special Counsel's investigation played out quickly with Dowd's statement and the clear link it drew between the decision to fire McCabe and the probe by Mueller.
"I pray that Acting Attorney-General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe's boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier," Dowd wrote.
Dowd said he was "speaking for myself" after initially telling the Daily Beast he was speaking on Trump's behalf. The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
After the latest digs from Trump, former FBI director James Comey said on Saturday on Twitter that "Mr President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honourable and who is not."
Comey was fired by the president in May. Like his former boss, McCabe kept memos detailing his interactions with the president, said a person familiar with the matter.
Given concerns about whether Trump could move to fire Mueller, Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, vice-chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said on Twitter that "every member of Congress, Republican and Democrat, needs to speak up in defence of the Special Counsel. Now."
Other Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Senator Kamala Harris of California, also spoke against the move to fire McCabe and Dowd's response.
"Dowd's comments are yet another indication that the first instinct of @realDonaldTrump and his legal team is not to cooperate with Special Counsel Mueller, but to undermine him at every turn," Schumer said in a statement.
Trump wanted to fire Mueller in June but was convinced at the time to let him stay on, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The president can't fire Mueller directly, since he answers to the Justice Department official who appointed him, Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein. Usually a special counsel would report to the attorney-general, but Sessions recused himself from the inquiry because he advised and supported Trump's 2016 campaign. But Trump still has options.
Sessions made the decision to fire McCabe after the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility recommended McCabe be dismissed for not being forthcoming about authorising discussions with a reporter about a pending investigation. Sessions said he relied on internal assessments that McCabe lacked candour on multiple occasions.
McCabe responded with a lengthy, combative statement saying he was the target of a political attack by Trump and that he has knowledge of events that took place after Trump fired FBI director James Comey in May - which have been a focus of Mueller's probe.
McCabe said he'd been "singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey."
"The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey's accounts of his discussions with the president," McCabe said in the statement.
Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general who is representing McCabe, said the efforts to investigate and eventually fire McCabe came after disclosures that McCabe would be a "corroborating witness" against the president.
McCabe already had stepped down from the No. 2 position and went on leave in January. He planned to retire from the Federal Bureau of Investigation as of Sunday, when he turns 50 and would become eligible for his full government pension.
By firing McCabe, Sessions may have averted an intense backlash from Trump, who has regularly used his Twitter account to criticise the attorney-general for recusing himself from the Russia probe. Shortly after midnight, Trump praised McCabe's dismissal in a tweet.
"Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy," the president wrote. "Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!"
Trump's critics hit back.
"When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history," former CIA director John Brennan said on Twitter. "You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America...America will triumph over you."
Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said early Saturday on MSNBC that the move on McCabe may have a "chilling impact" on the work of the FBI.
Despite the public posture of cooperation, Trump's other personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, has been using his daily radio show to chip away at Mueller's investigation for months.
The show, which Sekulow has broadcast for more than two decades with an audience of more than 1.5 million daily listeners, has become a key venue for challenging the basis for Mueller's investigation. He has regularly attacked the credibility of McCabe and other FBI officials looking into Russian election meddling and the use of a surveillance warrant against a Trump campaign adviser.
Sessions said the decision to fire McCabe was the proper response to an investigation into his actions.
"Pursuant to Department Order 1202, and based on the report of the Inspector General, the findings of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility, and the recommendation of the Department's senior career official, I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately," Sessions said in a statement.
Bromwich said the decision process was unfairly rushed.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on Saturday on Twitter that Sessions' move had "an odious taint" given Trump's earlier comments.
McCabe's dismissal may put his pension in jeopardy, either reducing or eliminating it. He became the FBI's acting director after Trump fired Comey last May. He served in that role until Aug 2 when Christopher Wray took charge.
"This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally," McCabe said in the statement.
He also said that his dismissal was part of an attempt by the Trump administration to undermine both the bureau and Mueller's investigation. "Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel's work," McCabe added.
'NOTHING TO LOSE'
Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who's now managing director of the international investigation firm Berkeley Research Group, said the firing could free McCabe to provide even more details to investigators.
"Talk about a guy who has nothing to lose - literally, nothing to lose," Cramer said in an interview. "If he was holding anything back out of loyalty to the FBI or a sense of duty, well that just walked out the door. If he has any information he hasn't revealed out of a sense of loyalty, that might be told now."
Ahead of the dismissal, the FBI's professional responsibility office found that McCabe misled Justice Department officials about his role in letting bureau officials talk to a reporter about the FBI's investigation into the Clinton Foundation in October 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The attack on McCabe by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders as a "bad actor" on Thursday, the day when he was meeting with Justice Department officials to appeal his case, hinted that his fate had already been sealed.
McCabe became a Republican target partly because he helped oversee the Clinton email investigation in 2016, even though his wife had accepted donations from Democratic political organisations during a losing campaign for the Virginia state Senate the previous year.
A graduate of Duke University and Washington University's law school, McCabe joined the FBI in 1996, and later held management positions in the counterterrorism division and the Washington field office.
The Justice Department's inspector general also has investigated decisions made in the department and FBI before the 2016 election, including events and actions involving McCabe, and plans to release its findings in the coming weeks.
Without the inspector general's report "it's impossible to evaluate the merits of this harsh treatment of a 21-year FBI professional," Schiff said on Twitter.