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Trump Assails Mueller, Drawing Rebukes From Republicans

“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,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has been an ally of the president, said on “State of the Union” on CNN. “When it comes to Mr. Mueller, he is following the evidence where it takes him, and I think it’s very important he be allowed to do his job without interference, and there are many Republicans who share my view.”

Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, said if the president was innocent, he should “act like it” and leave Mr. Mueller alone. Mr. Gowdy warned of dire repercussions if the president tried to fire the special counsel, which might require him to first fire his attorney general or deputy attorney general.

“The president’s going to have a really difficult time nominating and having approved another attorney general,” Mr. Gowdy said on Fox News Sunday.” “I would just counsel the president — it’s going to be a very, very long, bad 2018, and it’s going to be distracting from other things that he wants to do and he was elected do. Let it play out its course. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible.”

The shift in tone comes just days after The New York Times reported that Mr. Mueller has subpoenaed records from the Trump Organization. Mr. Trump’s lawyers met with Mr. Mueller’s team last week and received more details about how the special counsel is approaching the investigation, including the scope of his interest in the Trump Organization specifically.

A president cannot directly fire a special counsel but instead can order his attorney general to do so, and even then has to give a cause like conflict of interest. Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former campaign adviser, has recused himself from the Russia investigation, to Mr. Trump’s continuing aggravation, the job would then fall to the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein.

But Mr. Rosenstein has said as recently as last week that he sees no justification for firing Mr. Mueller, meaning that he would either have to change his mind or be removed himself. The third-ranking official at the Justice Department, Rachel Brand, decided last month to step down. The next official in line would be the solicitor general, Noel Francisco, a former White House and Justice Department lawyer under Mr. Bush.

Mr. Trump sought to have Mr. Mueller fired last June but backed down after his White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, threatened to quit. The president told The Times a month later that Mr. Mueller would be crossing a red line if he looked into his family’s finances beyond any relationship with Russia. The White House made no assertion last week that the subpoena to the Trump Organization crossed that red line, but Mr. Trump evidently has grown tired of the strategy of being respectful and deferential to the special counsel.

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John Dowd, the president’s private lawyer, signaled the shift in approach in a statement given to The Daily Beast shortly after Mr. Sessions fired Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy F.B.I. director who worked closely on the Russia investigation with James B. Comey, the bureau director fired by Mr. Trump last year.

“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the F.B.I. 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,” Mr. Dowd said.

When Mr. Mueller assembled his team, he surrounded himself with subject-matter experts and trusted former colleagues. As the team filled out, Republican allies of Mr. Trump noted that some high-profile members had previously donated money to Democratic political candidates. In particular, Republicans have seized on donations by Andrew Weissmann, who served as F.B.I. general counsel under Mr. Mueller, as an example of bias. Mr. Weissmann is a career prosecutor but, while in private law practice, he donated thousands of dollars toward President Barack Obama’s election effort.

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In his Sunday morning Twitter blasts, Mr. Trump also renewed his attacks on Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe, who like Mr. Mueller are also longtime Republicans. Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey last May, at first attributing the decision to the F.B.I. director’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server but later telling an interviewer that he had the Russia investigation in mind when he made the decision.

Mr. Sessions, under intense public pressure from Mr. Trump, fired Mr. McCabe on Friday after the former deputy F.B.I. director was accused of not being candid with an inspector general about authorizing department officials to talk with a reporter about the Clinton inquiry in 2016.

“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…?’” Mr. Trump wrote. “He said strongly ‘never, no.’ He lied as shown clearly on @foxandfriends.”

Mr. Trump went on to dismiss reports that Mr. McCabe kept detailed memos of his time as deputy F.B.I. director under Mr. Trump, just as Mr. Comey did. Mr. McCabe left those memos with the F.B.I., which means that Mr. Mueller’s team has access to them.

“Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me,” Mr. Trump wrote. “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?”

Mr. Trump, who admitted last week that he made up a claim in a meeting with Canada’s prime minister and who is considered honest by only a third of the American people in polls, stayed this weekend at the White House, where he evidently has spent time watching Fox News and stewing about the investigation. After his Twitter blasts on Sunday morning, he headed to his golf club in Virginia.

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In suggesting that Mr. Comey lied under oath to Congress, Mr. Trump appeared to be referring to a comment by Mr. McCabe that the former director had authorized the media interaction at the heart of the complaint against him. The president’s Republican allies picked up the point on Sunday and pressed their case for the appointment of a prosecutor to look at the origin of the Russia investigation.

“So we know that McCabe has lied” because the inspector general concluded he had not been fully candid, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader, said on Fox News. “Now he’s saying about Comey — Comey may have lied as well. So I don’t think this is the end of it. But that’s why we need a second special counsel.”

Other Republicans, however, suggested that the Trump administration was going too far. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida criticized the decision to fire Mr. McCabe on a Friday night shortly before his retirement took effect, jeopardizing his pension.

“I don’t like the way it happened,” Mr. Rubio said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “He should’ve been allowed to finish through the weekend.” Speaking of the president, he added: “Obviously he doesn’t like McCabe and he’s made that pretty clear now for over a year. We need to be very careful about taking these very important entities and smearing everybody in them with a broad stroke.”

The president has repeatedly argued that Mr. McCabe was tainted because his wife ran for the Virginia State Senate as a Democrat in 2015 and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from an organization controlled by Terry McAuliffe, then the governor and a longtime friend of Hillary and Bill Clinton. Jill McCabe lost the race, and Mr. Trump reportedly told Mr. McCabe that she was a “loser.”

Mr. McCabe has characterized his firing as an attempt to impede Mr. Mueller’s investigation, which beyond collusion is also focused on whether the president has attempted to obstruct justice by firing Mr. Comey. “This is part of an effort to discredit me as a witness,” Mr. McCabe said on Friday.

The Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee has concluded that there was no systematic collusion between Russia and Mr. Trump’s campaign and shut down its investigation, a decision that the Democrats on the panel objected to. The Senate Intelligence Committee is still actively investigating even as Mr. Mueller’s team is.

Mr. Mueller has established that Russia tried to interfere in the election to benefit Mr. Trump and indicted three Russian organizations and 13 Russian individuals in the effort, although the indictment included no allegation that the president’s campaign was involved. Mr. Trump’s administration last week sanctioned those organizations and individuals.

Follow Peter Baker on Twitter: @peterbakernyt


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