Two Republican senators have said that President Donald Trump would be wise to keep a public silence on an independent investigation into his 2016 campaign’s contacts with Russia in the wake of news reports he sought to fire the special counsel.
The senators – Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine – also urged special counsel Robert Mueller to review whether Mr Trump tried to fire him last June, an accusation the president has labeled “fake news”.
“Mueller is the best person to look at it,” said Mr Graham, describing the allegation as grave if proved true. “I’m sure that there will be an investigation around whether or not President Trump did try to fire Mr Mueller.”
Mr Graham, co-sponsor of legislation that would protect Mr Mueller from being fired without a legal basis, said he would be “glad to pass it tomorrow”. However, he insisted that Mr Mueller’s job appeared to be in no immediate danger, pointing to the political costs if Mr Trump did remove him.
“It’s pretty clear to me that everybody in the White House knows it would be the end of President Trump’s presidency if he fired Mr Mueller,” he said. Ms Collins said it would certainly “not hurt” for Congress to approve added protections for Mr Mueller given the recent media reports.
“I think the president would be best-served by never discussing the investigation, ever, whether in tweets, except in private conversations with his attorney,” she said.
The New York Times and other outlets reported that Mr Trump backed off his attempt to fire Mr Mueller last June only after White House lawyer Don McGahn refused to relay his directive to the Justice Department and threatened to quit if Mr Trump pressed the issue.
According to the reports, Mr Trump argued that Mr Mueller could not be fair because of a dispute over golf club fees that he said Mr Mueller owed at a Trump golf club in Sterling, Virginia. The president also believed Mr Mueller had a conflict of interest because he worked for the same law firm that was representing Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.
On Sunday, lawmakers praised Mr Mueller’s impartiality and expressed confidence that he would be able to conduct a full, wide-ranging investigation. “I have complete confidence in Mr Mueller,” Mr Graham said.
“I haven’t yet seen any evidence of collusion between President Trump and the Russians, but the investigation needs to go forward without political interference, and I’m sure it will.”
Defending the president, White House legislative director Marc Short said he did not know if Mr Trump would sign legislation that would make it harder to fire Mr Mueller. However, Mr Short stressed that despite media reports, he was not aware of any conversation in which Mr Trump expressed a desire to fire Mr Mueller.
“I know that the president has been frustrated by this investigation,” Mr Short said. “He feels like there’s been millions of dollars of taxpayers’ dollars spent and no evidence yet of collusion.
“The White House continues to co-operate in every manner providing any document the special counsel has asked for.”