Republican senators warned President Donald Trump on Sunday not to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and said the president must let federal investigators looking into Russian meddling in the US election do their jobs.
The Republican president has renewed his Twitter attacks on both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Mueller’s probe since the firing on Friday of the bureau’s former deputy director, Andrew McCabe, two days before he was eligible to retire with a full pension.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who has criticised Mr Trump harshly, said the president’s latest comments appeared to be aimed at the firing of Mr Mueller. Senator Lindsey Graham, another Republican, said if Mr Trump were to dismiss Mueller, it would mark "the beginning of the end of his presidency".
AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, said: "As the speaker has always said, Mr Mueller and his team should be able to do their job."
In an effort to tamp down the chatter, White House lawyer Ty Cobb issued a statement on Sunday night saying Mr Trump was not weighing Mr Mueller’s removal.
"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," he said.
The Republican comments underscored the risks for Mr Trump if he goes too far to thwart the federal probe.
"I don’t know what the designs are on Mueller, but it seems to be building toward that (firing him), and I just hope it doesn’t go there, because it can’t. We can’t in Congress accept that," Mr Flake told CNN’s State of the Union.
"So I would expect to see considerable pushback in the next couple of days urging the president not to go there."
Donald Trump and the Russian connections
In a series of tweets over the weekend, Mr Trump accused the FBI leadership of lies, corruption and leaking information. He called the Russia probe a politically motivated witch hunt.
"The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,"Mr Trump said on Saturday. On Sunday, he attacked former FBI Director James Comey and Mr McCabe, top officials who were involved in the Russia probe and subsequently fired.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2018
The US intelligence community has concluded that Moscow conducted an influence campaign aimed at swaying the 2016 presidential election to MrTrump over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Mr Mueller is investigating the Russian meddling and any possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
On Saturday, Mr Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd urged the Justice Department official overseeing Mr Mueller, Rod Rosenstein, to "bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by Mr McCabe’s boss James Comey".
Republican US Representative Trey Gowdy criticised Mr Dowd in an interview with Fox News Sunday.
"I think the president’s attorney, frankly, does him a disservice when he says that and when he frames the investigation that way," he said. "If you have an innocent client, Mr Dowd, act like it."