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Trump steps up attacks on Mueller investigation


President Donald Trump called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to shut down special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation Wednesday, prompting a race by the president's legal team to try to contain the fallout.

"This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!" Trump said in a series of tweets.

Trump's personal lawyers quickly sought to downplay his comments, calling them an expression of his personal opinion — not an order to Sessions that could plunge the country into a political and constitutional crisis. And the Justice Department indicated it would take no action based on Trump's Twitter venting.

"We have been saying for months that it is time to bring this inquiry to an end," Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said. "The president has expressed the same opinion."

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders Wednesday afternoon said Trump's tweet was not an order, rather the "president's opinion."

"The president is not obstructing, he's fighting back," Sanders said. "The president has stated his opinion, he's stating it clearly. He is certainly expressing the frustration he has with the level of corruption that we've seen from people like James Comey, Peter Strzok, Andrew McCabe."

"There's a reason the president is angry and frankly, most of America is angry as well and there is no reason he shouldn't be able to voice that opinion," she said.

Trump's comments Wednesday caused a stir on Capitol Hill, where Republican and Democratic lawmakers said the Mueller probe should be allowed to continue unimpeded.

“I think it's highly inappropriate and intemperate,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who exited an elevator to answer reporters' questions about the tweet. “It would be far better if the president just refrained from commenting and Mr. Mueller proceeds with his investigation.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a vocal Trump critic, called the tweets "an attempt to obstruct justice hiding in plain sight."

“America must never accept it,” he tweeted.

Several Republicans expressed confidence, however, that Trump would not move to bring the investigation to a premature end.

“I think that's an academic question,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said when asked if he believes Trump will fire Mueller. “I think the president is way too intelligent to fire Mueller and I don't think [Attorney] General Sessions can because he recused himself.”

Past presidents have generally refrained from weighing in on active federal investigations, but Trump has broken that norm repeatedly by denouncing the Russia probe.

Sessions has long been the target of Trump's ire over his recusal from Russia-related matters last year. Sessions's recusal left his deputy, Rosenstein, as the top Justice Department official overseeing the Russia probe, and Rosenstein appointed Mueller after Trump fired Comey.

The attorney general recused himself in March 2017 to avoid conflicts related to his service as a key Trump campaign adviser. The decision came after it was revealed Sessions failed to disclose contacts with Russia’s U.S. ambassador during the campaign.

Trump has said he would have nominated another person as attorney general if he had known Sessions would recuse himself, but previously has not gone as far as calling on Sessions to end the probe.

The Justice Department declined to comment on Wednesday.

The president's latest barrage of criticism came on the second day of the trial of his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who is accused of committing tax, financial and bank fraud crimes while working for the pro-Russian former leader of Ukraine.

Manafort is the first Trump associate to go on trial in the Mueller probe, an event that has consumed a major amount of media coverage — to Trump's apparent frustration.

The president sought to distance himself from Manafort early Wednesday, saying in another tweet that Manafort only “worked for me for a very short time” and suggested federal authorities should have informed him his campaign chief was under investigation during the 2016 presidential race.

“Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders. He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion — a Hoax!” Trump tweeted.

Trump later questioned whether federal officials were treating Manafort worse than Mafia boss Al Capone, who served 11 years in prison after being convicted of tax evasion.

Capone was suspected of being involved in dozens of murders but he was never tried or convicted for them.

For months, the president has kept up a sustained attack on the Mueller investigation in an attempt to undermine it in the eyes of the public.

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