The White House signaled that it believes President Donald Trump has the authority to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, a day after the FBI’s raid at the offices of Trump’s long-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
Asked by a reporter whether Trump believes that firing Mueller was within his power, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday that he “certainly believes he has the power to do so.”
“I think that the president has been clear that he thinks that this has gone too far,” Sanders said.
On Monday, Trump railed against the FBI’s raid and called the incident “a disgraceful situation.”
The FBI acted on a tip from the special counsel and took some records related to the $130,000 nondisclosure payment Cohen made to the adult-film actress, Stormy Daniels, shortly before the 2016 US presidential election. Investigators also seized a computer, phone, personal financial records, and attorney-client communications.
“I have this witch hunt constantly going on,” Trump said during a military leadership meeting on Monday, according to a press pool report. “It’s an attack on our country … what we all stand for.”
Trump called Cohen a “good man” and labelled the special counsel Robert Mueller’s team as “the most conflicted group of people I have ever seen.”
Trump previously said he was “looking forward” to talking with Mueller, but more recently he has left open the possibility of firing him.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “Many people have said you should fire him. Again, they found nothing and in finding nothing that’s a big statement …”
Trump has bristled at the special counsel’s Russia investigation and called it a politically-biased “witch hunt” and “hoax.”
Trump could order Mueller’s dismissal, but he would not be able to fire him directly unless he ordered the repeal of the special counsel regulations adopted in 1999, according to former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal.
Trump could also order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, at the cost of some political capital.
In 1973, Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned after refusing President Richard Nixon’s order to fire the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who was investigating the infamous Watergate scandal. The events ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation.