Senate Democrats were disturbed Wednesday by President Donald Trump’s tweets explicitly calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to halt the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“This is a really outrageous move on the part of the president,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
Though he has publicly attempted to pressure Sessions before, Trump made his most direct appeal yet to the attorney general to terminate special counsel Robert’ Mueller’s probe of Russian activities and possible connections to Trump’s campaign.
“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,” Trump tweeted. “Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”
Having served as a surrogate and adviser to Trump in 2016, Sessions has recused himself from any investigations surrounding the campaign, but he conceivably could reverse that decision. For now, the fate of Mueller’s investigation rests with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who Trump allies in the House are trying to impeach.
“He’s essentially asking the chief law enforcement officer of the United States to engage in an obstruction of justice,” Van Hollen said.
The president’s latest attack on Mueller came on the second full day of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s trial for crimes unrelated to his campaign work. Prosecutors say Manafort illegally funneled tens of millions of dollars through offshore accounts while working for Ukrainian politicians.
Manafort denies any wrongdoing, but Trump questioned Wednesday why he was not informed his top campaign official was under investigation. He also suggested Manafort, who has been held in solitary confinement since his bail was revoked, is now being treated worse than Al Capone.
According to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Mueller’s investigation is moving at “record speed,” and Trump’s tweets are “just another attempt to make the American people look at his latest shiny object.”
“Remember Mr. President, getting to the truth is critical for our security and democracy,” Schumer tweeted.
In addition to the charges against Manafort, Mueller’s probe has so far led to guilty pleas from two other former Trump campaign advisers and indictments of about two dozen Russian operatives accused of orchestrating hacking and propaganda efforts.
No evidence has emerged at this point that shows coordination between Trump’s campaign and the Russian operation. The president insisted Wednesday claims of collusion are “a TOTAL HOAX,” but he also argued this week that if his campaign did collude with Russia, it would not be a crime.
“Mr. President, the Commander-in-Chief has a duty to #ProtectOurDemocracy – not to protect Putin. To quote the head of US Intel Dan Coats, our country is ‘under attack.’ It’s time you started acting like it,” tweeted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Trump has repeatedly claimed without proof that Mueller is “conflicted” and he often complains that many attorneys working on the special counsel’s investigation donated money to Democratic candidates in the past. Mueller is reportedly investigating whether Trump has illegally obstructed the probe, and his team has been negotiating with the president’s attorneys about a possible interview.
“We have to ask ourselves the question, if they’ve got nothing to hide, why is the president so worried about it?” Van Hollen asked.
Democrats have called for legislation to protect Mueller from any attempts by Trump to shut down the investigation, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has maintained such a step is not necessary.
“Fire Mueller and we fire you,” tweeted Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., in response to Trump Wednesday.