Trump wants attorney general, who recused himself from Russia probe, to end Russia probe
White House says president was not giving an order but expressing an opinion
U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end a federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether there was any co-operation by his campaign with Moscow.
The Republican president, who has long complained about the criminal probe into his White House victory, said the idea that his campaign worked with Moscow was a "TOTAL HOAX" in a series of tweets aimed at undermining the integrity of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
In what appeared to be his most direct call for shutting down the probe, Trump wrote on Twitter: "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," Trump continued.
He provided no evidence that the team led by Mueller, a Republican appointed by Republicans, is biased against him.
"It's not an order. It's the president's opinion," White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders told a news briefing when asked about the president's Twitter posts.
She denied that Trump was obstructing the probe. "He's fighting back," she said.
Several Republicans concerned by tweet
Trump has steadily attacked his attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia probe in March 2017.
Sessions cited his role as a senior adviser to Trump's presidential campaign and appointed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to oversee the investigation. The move came after testimony during his appointment hearings in which Sessions was evasive about meetings during the campaign with Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States.
Rosenstein in turn appointed Mueller and is the person with the authority to fire him.
Huckabee Sanders echoed the president's language that the investigation was a "witch hunt," but the Mueller probe thus far has produced 35 indictments and six guilty pleas.
Six Republican senators going into a vote on Wednesday disapproved of Trump's tweet calling for an end to the probe.
"They ought to let them conclude their work. What they're doing is something that is important and we support and I don't think any effort to truncate that or somehow shut it down early is in the public's best interest," said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said he did not think Sessions had the power to end the probe and it would be unwise to do so.
An element of Mueller's investigation includes whether Trump or anyone in the campaign tried to obstruct justice. The New York Times reported last week that the Mueller team was examining negative tweets and statements by Trump about Sessions and former FBI director James Comey.
Downplays Manafort connection again
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign to try to tip the vote in Trump's favour. Moscow has denied such interference, and Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign or any obstruction of justice.
Trump calls for the firing of the Special Counsel.<br><br>As his campaign manager faces trial.<br><br>As his lawyer says Trump knew of the Russian election dirt meeting at Trump Tower.<br><br>As his campaign officials cooperate with investigators.<br><br>He’s panicking. Congress must protect Mueller. <a href="https://t.co/DBWvevoqoA">pic.twitter.com/DBWvevoqoA</a>—@RepDonBeyer
Democratic lawmakers criticized Trump for seeking an end to the probe and urged that Congress protect the investigation.
"These kinds of threats are no accident. They reflect a state of mind and an intent to obstruct justice," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a member of the Senate's judiciary committee.
"He's panicking," Democratic Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia said on Twitter. "Congress must protect Mueller."
Mitch McConnell, the Senate's majority leader, earlier this year rebuffed legislative attempts to insulate Mueller from dismissal.
A Justice Department spokesperson said the department had no immediate comment on Trump's tweet about ending Mueller's probe.
The first trial arising from the probe into Russia's role in the election, began on Tuesday in Alexandria, Va. Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, faces 18 counts of bank and tax fraud charges.
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!—@realDonaldTrump
Trump also said the charges against Manafort have nothing to do with Russia collusion.
Manafort worked for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. While prosecutors have said they will not present evidence in this trial about possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, they may dig deeper into Manafort's connections with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, legal experts have said.
As well, Manafort faces a second trial later this year in D.C., in which the charges he faces include conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, failure to register as a foreign agent and obstruction of justice.
With files from CBC News
With files from CBC News