The White House says the US president has the power to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is looking into accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential links between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.
“We’ve been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision,” Sarah Sanders told reporters at the White House. Trump “certainly believes he has the power” to fire Mueller, Sanders said.
Sanders was asked about Mueller one day after FBI agents raided the office of Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, within hours of obtaining a search warrant based on information from Mueller.
Trump has described the latest federal investigation into his long-time personal lawyer as “disgraceful”, and a never-ending “witch-hunt”.
Sanders said Trump believes the investigation should conclude. She reiterated that Trump thinks his investigation has gone too far and has “voiced his frustrations” over the situation.
Numerous legislators have warned Trump not to fire the special prosecutor.
Trump’s belief that he could fire Mueller appears to conflict with special counsel regulations, which say Mueller may be “disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the attorney general”.
In the current situation, that job would fall to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from all matters related to the 2016 presidential campaign.
CNN quoted sources as saying the president is considering firing Rosenstein. This could potentially further Trump’s goal of trying to put greater limits on Mueller, according to the report.
Sources told CNN the raid on Cohen’s premises could mark a tipping point that could prompt the president to take more aggressive action against Mueller.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that Trump sought to fire Mueller in December.
The paper said that in early December, Trump “told advisers in no uncertain terms that Mr Mueller’s investigation had to be shut down.”
The president’s anger was reportedly fuelled by reports that the subpoenas were for obtaining information about his business dealings with Deutsche Bank, the New York Times said, according to interviews with eight White House officials, people close to the president and others familiar with the episode.
Sanders said she wasn’t aware of any conversations between Trump and Sessions or Trump and Rosenstein since the raid.
FBI agents seized records about hush money allegedly paid to two women who claim they had affairs with Trump, according to the New York Times.