WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump has accused prosecutors working on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election of planning to meddle in this year's mid-term elections, escalating his attack on the probe while offering no evidence to back up his assertion.
Mr Trump's unsupported assertions made on Tuesday in several morning tweets - that prosecutors working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller will affect the mid-term elections to help Democrats - was his latest effort to discredit the investigation.
Mr Mueller's team is looking into the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination between Moscow and Mr Trump's campaign.
Republicans risk losing control of the House and possibly the Senate in this year's mid-terms as Democrats continue to feel emboldened by Mr Trump's unpopularity.
"The 13 Angry Democrats (plus people who worked 8 years for Obama) working on the rigged Russia Witch Hunt, will be MEDDLING with the midterm elections, especially now that Republicans (stay tough!) are taking the lead in Polls," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter, adding: "There was no Collusion, except by the Democrats!"
The probe, which recently marked its first anniversary, is headed by Mr Mueller, a long-time Republican, and overseen by Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, a Republican and a Trump appointee.
But publicly available voter-registration information shows that 13 of the 17 members of Mr Mueller's team have previously registered as Democrats, while four had no affiliation or their affiliation could not be found. Justice Department policies prohibit discrimination in hiring for career positions on the basis of politics.
In a second tweet on Tuesday, Mr Trump said the special counsel's team should instead be investigating the campaign of his Democratic opponent in the 2016 election, Mrs Hillary Clinton. "Why aren't the 13 Angry and heavily conflicted Democrats investigating the totally Crooked Campaign of totally Crooked Hillary Clinton," Mr Trump wrote. "It's a Rigged Witch Hunt, that's why!"
During the campaign, Mr Trump claimed Mrs Clinton should have been prosecuted harshly for lax security in her government e-mail practices when she was Secretary of State. Mr Trump is now claiming that the FBI went easy on her and that some people involved in making that decision are working against him in the Mueller probe.
In another tweet on Tuesday, Mr Trump suggested that the Russia probe was taking away some of his focus on other issues confronting the country, including trade deals and the effort to denuclearise North Korea.
Asked whether Mr Trump was trying to discredit the Mueller probe by calling it a "witch hunt", White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: "I think the President is stating a fact."
"It is a witch hunt," she told reporters travelling with Mr Trump to a campaign rally in Nashville. "He knows exactly what he did and what he didn't do, and he's been very clear from day one that there was no collusion."
US intelligence agencies have said they have high confidence that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election to hurt Mrs Clinton. By default, that effort would have helped Mr Trump, but Mr Mueller is looking into whether Trump associates played a more active role.
Mr Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort is among 19 individuals and entities indicted by Mr Mueller. Some of Mr Mueller's actions remain under seal.
Russia denies it interfered in the election.