- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2018

President Trump softened his tone on special counsel Robert Mueller and met at the White House with Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, diffusing rampant speculation that he was preparing to fire them in order to derail the Russia collusion probe.

Mr. Trump previously raged against Mr. Mueller and Mr. Rosenstein, in private and on Twitter, while the drumbeat for firing them intensified among the president’s allies.

Tamping down that narrative, the president said that he had “full confidence” in the way his legal team was dealing with the probe.

“I have agreed with the historically cooperative, disciplined approach that we have engaged in with Robert Mueller (Unlike the Clintons!),” tweeted Mr. Trump. “I have full confidence in Ty Cobb, my Special Counsel, and have been fully advised throughout each phase of this process.”

The message comforted GOP lawmakers who have warned Mr. Trump that firing Mr. Mueller would create a political uproar that could destroy his presidency.

Meanwhile, bipartisan legislation to protect Mr. Mueller from getting firing is slowly moving in the Senate.

The bill hit a bump Thursday with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley accusing Democrats of stalling.

Many of Mr. Trump’s allies have pushed for him to fire Mr. Mueller in the wake of an FBI raid on the Manhattan office of the president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

In a tweet, Mr. Trump said that Mr. Mueller and Mr. Rosenstein were “conflicted” in conducting the probe into alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

The White House added to the speculation by insisting it was within Mr. Trump’s authority to fire the special counsel.

The FBI raid Monday on Mr. Cohen’s office, home and hotel room appeared to focus on a matters beyond the Russia probe, including a $130,000 payment the lawyer made to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she alleged having with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump was enraged that the investigation delved into his legal and business activities, as well as violating attorney-client privilege.

He appeared to weigh firing Mr. Mueller or Mr. Rosenstein, who signed off on the search warrant application and also overseas the special counsel investigation.

Replacing Mr. Rosenstein would create an opportunity for his successor to fire Mr. Mueller and derail the special counsel investigation.

One of the voices calling for putting Mr. Mueller or Mr. Rosenstein on the chopping block was former federal prosecutor Joseph diGenova, who was poised to join the Trump legal team.

Rod Rosenstein is so incompetent, compromised and conflicted that he can no longer serve as the deputy attorney general,” Mr. diGenova said on Fox News’ “Hannity” program.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who was ousted by Mr. Trump but remains close to the president’s inner circle, also argued for removing Mr. Rosenstein to get to Mr. Mueller, the Washington Post reported.

Mr. Bannon proposed the White House end its cooperation with Mr. Mueller’s investigation, according to the report.

Mr. Trump’s tweet signaled that he was taking a different track.

Top GOP lawmakers, including Trump ally Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, warned that firing Mr. Mueller would spark allegations of obstruction of justice that could undermine his presidency.

“Anyone advising the President — in public or over the airwaves — to fire Bob Mueller does not have the President or the nation’s best interest at heart,” Mr. Hatch tweeted earlier Thursday. “Full stop.”

In the Senate, Mr. Grassley said he wanted to take up the bill to protect Mr. Mueller, setting up a vote next week. But the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, objected.

“This delay is uncalled for and unnecessary,” said Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican.

Mrs. Feinstein worried about an amendment Mr. Grassley is planning to offer that would increase reporting to Congress about the special counsel’s purpose and activities.

Mr. Grassley insisted his proposal wouldn’t undermine the protections bill.

“I’m at a loss to see how a call for the administration to be more transparent about decisions involving the special counsel — including any decision to fire the special counsel or curtail his investigation — would undermine the Mueller investigation,” he said.

Mrs. Feinstein said she still hoped the committee would debate the bill next week, saying lawmakers will have had enough time to study the issues.

Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, urged the committee to take a stand more quickly by passing a non-binding resolution expressing senators’ feeling that neither Mr. Mueller nor Mr. Rosenstein should be fired.

“It would buy us the time and give us the credibility to move forward,” Mr. Durbin said.

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