The president has the authority to fire the special counsel appointed to look into ties between his campaign and Russia, the White House asserted on Tuesday.
“We’ve been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision,” replied White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, when asked during a briefing whether it is within President Donald Trump’s power to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Many legal experts say that the president would have to take such an action through Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who could refuse to comply.
A number of Democratic lawmakers – and some Republicans in Congress – have warned such a drastic move would imperil Trump’s presidency and possibly trigger a constitutional crisis.
“I think it would be suicide for the president” to fire Mueller, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, said on CNN on Tuesday, calling for Trump to let the special counsel’s probe go forward.
The New York Times reported late Tuesday that Trump demanded Mueller be fired in December and his investigation shut down.
The Times story was based on interviews with a number of White House officials. It says Trump was infuriated by newspaper reports that Mueller’s office was issuing subpoenas over his business dealings with Deutsche Bank.
The reports turned out to be inaccurate. But the Times story illustrates Trump’s state of mind when it comes to Mueller possibly expanding his investigation from Russian election meddling into other matters concerning the president.
Rosenstein finds himself as the point person because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation.
The president has never forgiven Sessions for the recusal, White House officials –- speaking on condition they not be named — acknowledged on Tuesday.
Trump, a day earlier, renewed criticism of Sessions calling his recusal a “terrible mistake.”
Asked by a reporter if he had spoken with Trump on Tuesday, Sessions said “not today.”
VOA followed up with a question to Sessions about the status of his relationship with the president — amid speculation Trump could fire him at any time — but the attorney general did not reply.
With Sessions’ recusal, Rosenstein would also have been the one to have asked judges to have approved Monday’s raids by the Federal Bureau of Investigation related to Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Trump on Tuesday continued to rail about the raids on Cohen’s New York office and a hotel where he had been staying, calling them “a total witch hunt.”
Huckabee Sanders said she is not aware of whether Cohen continues to represent Trump.
FBI agents executed search warrants and seized financial documents and other records possibly related to Trump’s contacts with his personal attorney who paid $130,000 in hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 presidential election.
Cohen called the raids “upsetting” and said he was mostly concerned about his family. He told CNN he believes everything he did concerning Stormy Daniels was legal, but said he would be lying if he said he was not worried.
Trump has said he had no knowledge of the payment to Daniels, who media reports say is cooperating with federal investigators.
The payment was intended to keep the actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, quiet about the a one-night affair she claims to have had with Trump in 2006.
The president has said he had no knowledge of the payment to Daniels who media reports say is cooperating with federal investigators.
“The president has been clear that he thinks that this has gone too far,” Sanders told reporters on Tuesday concerning the scope and direction of Mueller’s investigation.
With the special counsel’s findings “we could see criminal charges that implicate Donald Trump in some way and that, even if they don’t lead to an indictment, provide the basis for possible action in Congress, which could mean impeachment,” American University Assistant Professor of Government Chris Edelson tells VOA.
But Edelson, also a fellow at the Center for Congressional and Political Studies, says he does not expect such action soon because even if Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in the November election, it would take a two-thirds majority in the Republican-controlled Senate to remove the president.
VOA’s Kenneth Schwartz, Ken Bredemeier, and Elizabeth Cherneff contributed to this story.