WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - US President Donald Trump fired a barrage of angry statements on Sunday (March 18) railing against the Justice Department special counsel's Russia investigation and attacking the integrity of former FBI Director James Comey and his former Deputy Andrew McCabe, charging that their notes from conversations with him are "Fake Memos".
For the second straight day, Trump was unrestrained in his commentary about Robert Mueller's expanding investigation, which is looking not only into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential race and possible links to the Trump campaign, but also whether the president has sought to obstruct justice.
After Trump's personal attorney, John Dowd, called on Saturday for an end to the Mueller inquiry, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Sunday urged the president and his legal team to cooperate fully with the investigation and warned of serious ramifications if they did not.
In one of his tweets, Trump protested, "Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added . . . does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!" The tweet overstates the partisan makeup of the special counsel's team and falsely asserts that no Republicans are on it.
Mueller is a longtime Republican. He was nominated as FBI director in 2001 by a Republican president, George W. Bush, and was appointed special counsel by Rod Rosenstein, the Republican whom Trump picked to be deputy attorney general.
Publicly available voter registration information shows that 13 of the 17 members of Mueller's team have previously registered as Democrats, while four had no affiliation or their affiliation could not be found. Nine of the 17 made political donations to Democrats, and their contributions totaled more than $57,000. The majority came from one person, who also contributed to Republicans. Six gave to Hillary Clinton, Trump's 2016 opponent.
Under instruction from his attorneys, Trump has in the past been careful not to publicly criticise Mueller by name or otherwise directly antagonize the special counsel, but rather to make more general criticisms.
On Saturday night, in an apparent change of strategy, Trump for the first time tweeted the name of the special counsel.
"The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime," Trump wrote.
"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!"
The president's attack came after Dowd called for an end to the Mueller investigation. He initially told the Daily Beast that he was speaking on behalf of the president, though he later backtracked and told The Washington Post that he was speaking only for himself.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, warned Trump that any interference in the Mueller probe would result in "a very, very long, bad 2018."
"If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it," Gowdy said on "Fox News Sunday."
"Russia attacked our country. Let Special Counsel Mueller figure that out."
Later, as if directly addressing the president, Gowdy said, "If you've done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible."
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, R, an informal adviser to Trump, said it would be inappropriate for the president to try to fire Mueller.
The special counsel has "conducted this investigation so far with great integrity, without leaking and by showing results, and I don't think the president's going to fire somebody like that," Christie said on ABC's This Week.
White House lawyer Ty Cobb issued a statement Sunday night that said: "In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the Administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller."
Still, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., warned that a move by Trump to order the firing of Mueller would be a step too far for lawmakers. "If he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency because we're a rule-of-law nation," Graham said on CNN's State Of The Union.
Sen. Dick Durbin, Ill., the chamber's second-ranking Democrat, said he is concerned about "a constitutional crisis in this country."
"This president is engaged in desperate and reckless conduct to intimidate the law enforcement agencies in this country and to try and stop the special counsel," Durbin said on Fox News Sunday.
"That is unacceptable in a democracy." Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said the threats to Mueller from Trump and Dowd were "a huge mistake for the president" and "very dangerous for the country."
"Robert Mueller is as straight an arrow as there is in America," King said on CBS' Face The Nation.
"The president keeps saying there's no story here, they didn't do anything wrong. If they didn't do anything wrong, why are they going to such extreme lengths to undermine this investigation, which is being carried out in a very responsible way?"
But legislation that could protect Mueller from any moves the president makes to fire him has stalled in Congress for months, as Republicans have raised constitutional concerns and argued that there was no pressing risk that the president would actually seek to get rid of the special counsel.
There has been no pressure from Republican congressional leadership to bring measures to protect Mueller to a vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have not backed the efforts.
When asked Sunday if the president's tweets would prompt Congress to take up such legislation, Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said, "As the speaker has always said, Mr. Mueller and his team should be able to do their job."
In a separate pair of tweets on Sunday, Trump also attacked Comey and McCabe, both regular foils to the president. Trump sent his Sunday tweets from the White House. He departed the residence shortly before 10 am, heading to the Trump National Golf Club in northern Virginia. Aides would not say who the president's golfing partners might be.
McCabe, who was fired from the FBI late Friday night just hours before he was set to retire with full benefits, has kept contemporaneous notes of his interactions with Trump, according to two people familiar with his records. McCabe's memos could prove useful to Mueller's investigators in their obstruction probe.
Trump tweeted, "Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me. I don't believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?"
Michael Bromwich, McCabe's lawyer, wrote Sunday on Twitter: "We will not be responding to each childish, defamatory, disgusting & false tweet by the President. The whole truth will come out in due course. But the tweets confirm that he has corrupted the entire process that led to Mr. McCabe's termination and has rendered it illegitimate."
In an Oval Office meeting in May, Trump asked McCabe whom he had voted for in the 2016 presidential election, several current and former U.S. officials have told The Post, and he complained about the political donations McCabe's wife received for her failed 2015 Virginia state Senate campaign.
Comey also took contemporaneous notes of his interactions with Trump and confided in McCabe about those private conversations, including when Trump asked him for his loyalty.
Comey is publishing a memoir next month that is expected to detail his interactions with Trump and investigation of Russian interference, among other topics.
In a Sunday morning tweet, Trump accused Comey of lying in testimony to Congress when he was questioned by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
The president wrote: "Wow, watch Comey lie under oath to Senator G when asked 'have you ever been an anonymous source . . . or known someone else to be an anonymous source. . .?' He said strongly 'never, no.' He lied as shown clearly on @foxandfriends." Trump in the past has masqueraded as a fake publicist by the name of "John Miller" or "John Barron" to leak flattering or boastful details about himself to tabloid reporters.
Both Graham and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a frequent Trump critic, said on CNN that the Senate Judiciary Committee should hold a hearing on McCabe's firing and give Attorney General Jeff Sessions and McCabe opportunities to explain their actions.
The handling of McCabe's firing - he was ousted just hours before his 50th birthday on Sunday, at which point he would have been able to retire with full benefits - drew bipartisan disagreement."I don't like the way it went down," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I would have certainly done it differently." Rubio added, "He should have been allowed to finish through the weekend."