Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
President Trump has "no intention" of firing the special counsel investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, a senior spokeswoman for Trump told reporters traveling with the president Tuesday.
“While the president has the right to, he has no intention to do so,” Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said when asked whether Trump was considering firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
Sanders also said that Trump saw part of Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Trump “thought that Atty. Gen. Sessions did a very good job and, in particular, was very strong on the point that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign,” she said.
Whether Trump does, in fact, have the authority to fire the special counsel is an unsettled legal issue, but Trump appears to have been at least thinking about the idea.
Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, testified Tuesday on Capitol Hill that under Justice Department regulations, he is the only official empowered to fire a special counsel.
Asked what he would do if Trump ordered him to fire Mueller, Rosenstein said, “I’m not going to follow any order unless I believe they are lawful and appropriate orders…. It wouldn’t matter to me what anybody said.”
Christopher Ruddy, a conservative publisher and a longtime friend of Trump, said Monday that Trump was considering removing Mueller, a former FBI director who has been praised for his credibility by Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Sanders declined to describe Trump’s current opinion of Mueller, who was named special counsel last month by Rosenstein. Since his appointment, Mueller has hired a seasoned group of investigators and former prosecutors to look into potential links between Trump’s campaign and Russian government officials.
Mueller was interviewed by Trump to be FBI director on the day before Rosenstein tapped Mueller to run the Russia investigation, Sanders said.
“I do know that he did interview him, I believe, the day before he was named as special counsel, and beyond that and what I said earlier, I don’t have anything to add,” Sanders said.
Mueller had been FBI director from 2001 to 2013. It is unclear whether Mueller was interested in returning to that job.
Last week, Trump picked Christopher A. Wray to head the bureau and replace former Director James B. Comey, who Trump fired on May 9. Wray is a former federal prosecutor who recently defended Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey in the so-called Bridgegate scandal.
(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
Less than a week after former FBI Director James B. Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the spotlight turned to Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and his role in Comey’s firing, the Russia investigation and other issues.
Here are key moments:
Sessions does not remember meeting any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel
Sessions, who has acknowledged two meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, said he had no recollection of meeting with him a third time during a conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.
He did not rule out such a meeting, but repeatedly said he did not recall it.
"It’s conceivable that it occurred. I just don’t remember it," he said.
Session is emphatic that he did not collude with Russian officials to influence the 2016 election
Sessions said any suggestion to the contrary was "a detestable and appalling lie."
Sessions implies that he was recused from the Russia investigation from Day 1 on the job.
From his first day in office, Sessions said he did not receive any information about the Russia investigation.
Sessions’ reasons for firing Comey differ from Trump’s
Sessions said he had issues with Comey’s performance as FBI director, including his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Sessions said he thought the FBI needed a "fresh start" under a new leader. Trump, however, told a TV interviewer that the Russian investigation was on his mind when he fired Comey.
Sessions confirms that he was not in the Oval Office when Comey had a private meeting with Trump
Sessions’ account matches Comey’s. Both said Trump asked Sessions and other officials to leave the room before he closed the door to meet privately with Comey. Comey has testified that Trump then asked him to drop a criminal investigation of former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
Sessions confirms that he and Comey met after the Oval Office discussion and that Comey expressed concern about private meetings with Trump
Comey said he asked the attorney general to try to prevent future one-on-one meetings with Trump but that Sessions did not respond. Sessions confirned that Comey "expressed concern" about the private conversation, but said "I did respond." He conceded, however, that he might not have addressed "everything he asked." Both men agreed that Comey did not tell Sessions about the subject of his conversation with Trump, which Comey testified was the president’s request that he drop the FBI investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
Sessions insists that his letter to Trump recommending that Comey be fired did not conflict with his recusal
During one of the testier exchanges of Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democratic, pressed Sessions on why he signed the letter, since he had earlier recused himself from anything to do with the Russia investigation.
""It did not violate my recusal," Sessions said.
"That does not pass the smell test," Wyden responded.
Sessions refuses to answer questions about his conversations with Trump about the Russia investigation
The attorney general said he couldn’t divulge his private conversations with Trump. "I am not stonewalling. I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice," he said. Under questioning by Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, Sessions declined to specify what those precise policies are, but said the "principle" is to protect presidential confidentiality. He said the White House has not specifically invoked executive privilege to shield his conversations with Trump.
Sessions has confidence in special counsel Robert Mueller III
Amid reports that Trump is thinking of firing the special counsel who is leading the Russia investigation, Sessions was asked whether he had confidence in his abilities.
“I have confidence in Mr. Mueller, but I am not going to discuss any hypotheticals," he said.
(Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)