- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2018

President Trump vented frustration Wednesday at special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, saying that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should end the probe — a plea that the White House later said was Mr. Trump’s opinion rather than an order.

In a series of tweets, Mr. Trump said Mr. Sessions should stop the investigation “before it continues to stain our country any further,” calling the probe a “disgrace.”

“This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”

The president often has criticized the probe and called for it to end, but this particular missive seemed more like a command to Mr. Sessions. It prompted alarm on Capitol Hill and among the president’s critics on the left.

The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said Mr. Trump’s tweet was “an attempt to obstruct justice hiding in plain sight.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York accused the president of trying to distract Americans from the success of the Mueller investigation under Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“The Mueller-Rosenstein investigation is making progress at record speed: 35 indictments, 5 guilty pleas & Trump’s campaign chairman on trial,” Mr. Schumer tweeted, adding that the president’s statements “are just another attempt to make the American people look at his latest shiny object.”

Shown the president’s tweet by a reporter, Sen. Susan M. Collins gasped, “Jeez, this is unbelievable.”

“It would be far better if the president refrained from commenting and for Mr. Mueller to continue his investigation, which so far already has 30 indictments, including Russian nationalists,” the Maine Republican said.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said later in the day that Mr. Trump essentially was venting his frustrations about the year-and-a-half-long probe that hangs over his presidency.

“It’s not an order, it’s the president’s opinion,” Mrs. Sanders said of the president’s tweet. “He wants to see this process come to an end.”

She added, “The president is not obstructing, he’s fighting back.”

“He’s certainly expressing the frustration that he has with the level of corruption that we’ve seen from people like Jim Comey, Peter Strzok, Andrew McCabe,” she said, citing the former FBI director and two other disgraced FBI officials. “There’s a reason that the president’s angry and, frankly, most of America is angry as well. And there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to voice that opinion.”

His tweet also came on the second day of the federal trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a case brought by Mr. Mueller’s team. He is facing charges of bank fraud and tax evasion stemming from alleged actions that took place before he joined the Trump campaign.

Mr. Trump said in a tweet that Mr. Manafort has worked in the past for other “highly prominent and respected political leaders,” and that the charges against him “have nothing to do with Collusion,” which he referred to as “a Hoax!”

The president’s comments came after he quoted Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who suggested that Mr. Mueller is trying to protect his team at the expense of the investigation.

“FBI Agent Peter Strzok (on the Mueller team) should have recused himself on day one. He was out to STOP THE ELECTION OF DONALD TRUMP. He needed an insurance policy. Those are illegal, improper goals, trying to influence the Election,” Mr. Trump tweeted.

The conservative group Americans for Limited Government echoed Mr. Trump’s call for an end to the special counsel’s probe, calling Mr. Mueller’s team “a hit squad.”

“It becomes clear this is a politically motivated hit job when you look at the prosecution of Paul Manafort which has nothing to do with Russia hacking, collusion or even the 2016 election,” said ALG President Rick Manning. “Tony Podesta, brother of former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and Paul Manafort worked together on the same issues in Ukraine. Both are accused of potentially failing to register as foreign lobbyist crimes, but only one of them is being prosecuted by Mueller’s team, while the other, rightfully so, has been handed off to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Why? Because Paul Manafort worked for Donald Trump.”

NBC News reported this week that Mr. Mueller’s team referred an investigation of Mr. Podesta and others to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The watchdog group Public Citizen called Mr. Trump’s tweet “desperate.”

“President Donald Trump’s tweet today calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is a dangerous attempt to undermine the rule of law and should be disregarded,” said Lisa Gilbert, the group’s vice president of legislative affairs.

She said Mr. Trump “has no business interfering in the investigation, which is looking into whether he and his campaign colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 elections.”

“Far from being a ‘witch hunt,’ as Trump likes to call it, Mueller’s investigation has made extraordinary progress at record speed,” Ms. Gilbert said. “In just a little over a year, it has racked up 35 indictments and five guilty pleas. The trial of Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is in its second day. Trump’s tweet smacks of desperation.”

She said the president should understand that “any attempt to interfere with the investigation will be met with nationwide protests; 350,000 people have signed up to protest in more than 900 locations across the country.”

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