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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump, left, sits with Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony in Quantico, Va. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Wednesday that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions should terminate the special counsel's election probe "right now," a new attack on the investigation that could imperil his presidency. Trump also assailed the federal trial, just underway, of his former campaign chairman by the special counsel's team

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders scrambled to explain that Trump's tweet was "not an order" and the president was not directing his attorney general to do anything.

"It's the president's opinion," she said.

Sessions held a news conference Wednesday at the Little Rock office of Cody Hiland, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, to urge a fix of the Armed Career Criminal Act. He did not take questions or address the president's tweet.

Meanwhile, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said negotiations are continuing to have Trump sit down for questions from special counsel Robert Mueller, though the lawyer said "I'm not going to give you a lot of hope that it's going to happen." He said both sides had exchanged proposals for conditions for such an interview, "and yesterday we got a letter back from them and now we're in the process of responding."

Trump has raged privately in recent days that both the forces of government and the media are trying to undermine him. That includes trumped-up charges against his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and distorting the outcome of the Helsinki summit to make it appear he was beholden to Russia, according to two Republicans close to the White House not authorized to speak about private conversations.

Trump was closely monitoring news coverage of the Manafort proceedings, which provoked the spate of incendiary tweets, according to the two Republicans and two White House officials.

"The president's not obstructing, he's fighting back," said Sanders, dismissing the idea Trump's tweets could be tantamount to obstruction of justice.

One of Trump's tweets said: "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, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!"

The president's anger came the day after the start of the trial of Manafort, who is facing federal charges of bank fraud and tax evasion. And while Mueller did not bring any election-related charges against Manafort, the specter of the Russian investigation is hanging over the Alexandria, Va., courthouse.

"Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders," Trump tweeted. "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!"

Later the president invoked one of the nation's most notorious criminals, 1920s gangster Al Capone, and posed the question "who was treated worse" while airing his grievance about Manafort being held in solitary confinement ahead of a conviction. Manafort is in detention after having his bail revoked because of allegations that he was attempting to tamper with witnesses in his case. Federal prosecutors revealed last month that he was afforded unusual privileges while in detention.

Trump has spent more than a year trying to distance himself from his one-time top political aide and to minimize the role Manafort played in his campaign. Trump's protestations aside, Manafort worked on the campaign during a critical six-month period in 2016, during which he led the effort to ensure Trump won the Republican nomination. He oversaw the early days of the general election effort.

Sanders said Trump wants Mueller's investigation concluded swiftly without intervention, though Trump has publicly mused as recently as May about interfering in the Department of Justice's oversight of the probe. "At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!" he tweeted then.

Trump has repeatedly belittled the probe as "a hoax," as those close to him suggest he feels that any talk of Russian interference tarnishes his electoral victory and delegitimizes his presidency.

One of the president's confidants deemed Trump in "a dark place," seething about the longlasting probe and the media's depiction of his White House under siege.

After complaining about the tough questions he received from American reporters in Finland, Trump has largely steered clear of the mainstream media, instead opting for safer spaces like an interview with ally Rush Limbaugh this week. From the White House briefing room podium Wednesday, Sanders declined to denounce the harassment of a CNN reporter during a Trump rally in Florida on Tuesday.

The president's social media outburst renewed discussion of the significance of his tweets.

Giuliani, the president's lawyer, stressed that Trump was just issuing an opinion, though he also said the White House believes "the investigation should be brought to a close."

"I guess, if we were playing poker — we're not — put up or shut up, what do you got?" Giuliani said. "We have every reason to believe they don't have anything."

When pressed by reporters on how she tells the difference between a presidential order or an opinion, Sanders said Trump makes his intentions "pretty clear."

But the line between registering an opinion or governing by tweet has bedeviled the White House from the start, even when former press secretary Sean Spicer declared tweets could be official White House statements. Earlier this year, Trump blindsided the Defense Department when he tweeted out a transgender ban for the military, prompting the Pentagon to slow walk the program.

Mueller already is interested in some of Trump's tweets to the extent they raise obstruction of justice concerns. Though experts believe obstruction by tweet is possible, prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a particular act got in the way of an investigation and that the person who did it intended to obstruct.

The president's tweets Wednesday were greeted warily on Capitol Hill, with most lawmakers, regardless of party, urging Trump to let the probe run its course.

No. 3 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota said, "The idea that they should truncate it doesn't make sense to me." Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut went much further, declaring. There is now highly credible evidence that the president of the United States is committing obstruction of justice in real time, right before our eyes."

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Staff members of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette contributed to this story.

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Archived Comments

  • PopMom
    August 1, 2018 at 10:29 a.m.

    If Trump fires Sessions and/or Rosenstein, then it will be interesting to see how many House Republicans will support impeachment proceedings for obstruction of justice.

  • abb
    August 1, 2018 at 10:33 a.m.

    but but but..... what about the meeting at Trump Tower!? And what about the dozen new fake accounts on Facebook right now who are trying to influence the election?
    This whole investigation is the biggest joke in history. I think Trump has had enough. Time for him to declassify and start controlling the story. Let the heads roll. Just start firing and shut up.
    Oh, and today the new word is not collusion, but conspiracy: Conspiracy to obstruct justice by winning an election that Trump wasn't supposed to, even with the help of the DOJ/FBI/DNC to usurp it. IMHO, this whole Mueller investigation is to cover up the myriad crimes of the Marxist Kenyan Muslim gang.

  • hah406
    August 1, 2018 at 10:44 a.m.

    abb, so an investigation that has already produced over thirty indictments and multiple guilty pleas is a joke? What does it take for you to acknowledge that actual crimes took place? If Trump is innocent and didn't do anything wrong, he has nothing to worry about. He sure doesn't act like that however. And FYI, conspiracy is the actual crime that one can be charged with for colluding with a foreign government to interfere in an election. Just to clarify, since you keep hollering that collusion isn't a crime.
    ...
    So are you trolling today from St. Petersburg or Moscow?

  • ARMNAR
    August 1, 2018 at 10:45 a.m.

    Good job today, Comrade abb. Many rubles for you.

  • TimberTopper
    August 1, 2018 at 11:23 a.m.

    It's getting closer and Trump knows that he's not the only one that knows the truth. He may be having trouble sleeping, and as a result is more and more pissed about the whole situation.

  • ARMNAR
    August 1, 2018 at 11:26 a.m.

    I'm guessing abb is Q.

  • Packman
    August 1, 2018 at 11:29 a.m.

    Hey hah - Stop being a disingenuous partisan hack. None of those indictments or guilty pleas had ANYTHING to do with Trump/Putin collusion. Trump isn't worried. You mistake frustration and loathing of a false narrative for worry.
    .
    As to foreign interference in our elections, why are you, hah, silent about the move to allow foreigners to vote in our elections? Talk about foreign interference..........

  • abb
    August 1, 2018 at 11:47 a.m.

    Sorry Jay Dee (ARMNAR)...not queer. Projecting much?

  • PopMom
    August 1, 2018 at 12:19 p.m.

    Pack,

    Trump is VERY worried which is why he is trying to stop the investigation.

  • tomar51
    August 1, 2018 at 12:27 p.m.

    Watch the entire Helsinki News Conference before you downplay Russia. The "R" stands for RUSSIAN. Russian spies @ RNC, Trump Tower, NRA & Oval Office. Anyone else see a pattern here. Comrade Dumbas* Donny is a TRAITOR, LIAR, RACIST & FUCi%$ MORON!!!!! U LIE DTRUMP!!!!! Wake up PUTIN PUBES!!!Begin typing here...

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