WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump and his lawyer have fired what may be the first shots in a showdown with special counsel Robert Mueller over the future of his investigation into Russian election meddling and Mr Trump's campaign in 2016.
The President kept up the pressure early yesterday with a series of Twitter messages assailing Mr Mueller's investigation, former FBI director James Comey, and Mr Andrew McCabe, until recently the FBI's deputy director.
The firing of Mr McCabe prompted Mr Trump's lawyer, Mr John Dowd, to call for Mr Mueller to shut down his collusion probe. Mr Trump, meanwhile, unleashed a pair of tweets attacking the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Mr Comey, the FBI director he fired last May.
The comments were the latest sign that Mr Trump has lost patience with the months-long investigation that has cast a dark shadow over his presidency.
Mr Trump was talked out of firing Mr Mueller back in June, but there are strong signals that the special counsel and his team of 17 prosecutors have at least several months more work ahead of them.
"The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime," Mr Trump said last Saturday on Twitter. "It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!"
Any move to fire Mr Mueller is expected to ignite a political firestorm in Washington. Democrats have warned of a constitutional crisis, and even most Senate Republicans have cautioned Mr Trump against doing anything to curtail the special counsel's investigation.
Mr McCabe's firing also adds fresh fuel to Mr Mueller's probe. Former Justice Department attorney Michael Bromwich, now one of Mr McCabe's lawyers, said the veteran FBI agent was fired after the disclosure that he was a cooperating witness against Mr Trump.
Mr McCabe documented his interactions with Mr Trump in a series of memos, and those memos could play into Mr Mueller's probe.
Mr Trump continued his attacks on Twitter yesterday, accusing Mr Comey of lying under oath and questioning whether any of Mr McCabe's memos were "fake". He said he never saw the former deputy FBI director take notes and "I don't believe he made memos expect to help his own agenda". He also claimed that Mr Mueller's team of prosecutors has "13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters".
Now that Mr McCabe has lost his job and possibly a substantial portion of the pension after than two decades with the FBI, he has little reason not to speak out.
"Talk about a guy who has nothing to lose - literally, nothing to lose," said Mr Jeffrey Cramer, managing director of the international investigation firm Berkeley Research Group. "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," Mr Cramer said.
Mr Dowd had said in an e-mailed statement on Friday: "I pray that Acting Attorney-General (Rod) 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."
He quickly clarified that he was speaking for himself, not for the President.