WASHINGTON -- A lawyer for President Donald Trump on Saturday called for the Justice Department to end the special counsel investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, shifting to a more adversarial stance as the inquiry appeared to be intensifying.
The comments by the lawyer, John Dowd, were prompted by the firing late Friday of the former deputy FBI director, Andrew McCabe. Dowd exhorted Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who oversees the special counsel, to end the inquiry and accused the former FBI director, James Comey, of concocting a baseless investigation.
"I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe's boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt dossier," Dowd told The Daily Beast website.
His remarks came after another round of revelations in recent days that reinvigorated or displayed Trump's frustrations with the investigation that has cast a shadow over his presidency. He was said to be angered over a New York Times report that records from the Trump Organization were subpoenaed, and he celebrated the firing of McCabe, who was among the first FBI officials to scrutinize possible links between Russia and the Trump team.
Dowd did not name the special counsel, Robert Mueller, or say whether he believed Mueller should be fired. Such a move could set off alarms among Republicans in Congress, who have largely stood by as the president repeatedly assailed the Justice Department and the FBI.
Dowd said at first that he was speaking on behalf of the president but later backed off that assertion. He did not elaborate on why he was calling for the end of the investigation, saying only: "Just end it on the merits in light of recent revelations."
People close to the president were skeptical that Dowd was acting on his own. Trump has a history of using advisers to publicly test a message, giving him some distance from it. And Dowd's comments came at a time when members of Trump's legal team are jockeying to stay in his favor.
Hours later, the president echoed Dowd's accusations of corruption.
In a Saturday afternoon tweet, Trump reiterated his claim that there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russians, and he bemoaned what he described as "leaking, lying and corruption" in federal law enforcement agencies. But he stopped short of echoing Dowd's call for an end to the Mueller probe.
Trump tweeted: "As the House Intelligence Committee has concluded, there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign. As many are now finding out, however, there was tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State. #DrainTheSwamp."
Trump was referring to the announcement last week by Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee that they were concluding their investigation of Russian interference in the election, though a separate investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee continues, as does Mueller's probe.
If Dowd's statement reflects Trump's legal strategy, it would represent a significant shift in the president's approach to the Mueller investigation.
Trump's lawyers and spokesmen have long pledged that he and his White House staff would cooperate fully with Mueller's probe. The White House has responded to requests for documents, while senior officials have sat for hours of interviews with the special counsel's investigators.
The comments by both Trump and Dowd lent credence to McCabe's assertion that the president sees his firing as directly tied into Mueller's case. McCabe, who is a potential witness in the investigation, declared his dismissal was an attempt to undermine it.
Sessions fired McCabe for failing to be forthcoming with the department's internal watchdog about a conversation he authorized between FBI officials and a journalist.
Early Saturday, Trump praised McCabe's dismissal in a tweet.
"Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy," the president wrote. "Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!"
Trump's critics hit back. "When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history," former CIA Director John Brennan said on Twitter. "You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America...America will triumph over you."
Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said early Saturday on MSNBC that the move on McCabe may have a "chilling impact" on the work of the FBI.
McCabe kept contemporaneous memos about his interactions with the president and his conversations with Comey, a person close to McCabe said Saturday.
The memos could support or rebut the account of Comey, who described in his own memos and congressional testimony repeated requests from the president to clear his name. Comey said Trump also asked him to end an investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. The special counsel is investigating both matters.
McCabe's memos were left at the FBI, which means Mueller's investigators have access to them as they work to corroborate Comey's account.
McCabe's lawyers had no comment Saturday, and Rosenstein has repeatedly defended the special counsel, including in an interview this month with USA Today in which he said he had seen no need to fire Mueller.
Comey, who has a book scheduled to be published next month, weighed in himself.
"Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon," he tweeted. "And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not."
Trump, who has repeatedly criticized McCabe's wife for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from a political committee tied to Terry McAuliffe, a Hillary Clinton ally, for a Virginia state Senate race -- praised McCabe's ouster again Saturday.
"The Fake News is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife's campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation?" he tweeted. "How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!"
Trump has increasingly expressed frustration as the special counsel investigation has shown signs of continuing. His legal team has worked to keep him from firing Mueller in the past. The attorneys -- led by the White House lawyer Ty Cobb -- told Trump that Mueller's investigation would be over by last December and that they would ask Mueller to put out a statement saying the president was not a target of the investigation.
But instead, Trump was angered anew last week over the Times report that Mueller had subpoenaed his corporate records, including those related to Russia, according to one person close to the White House.
People close to the president have advised him to shake up his legal team, according the the Times. This month, Trump met with a veteran Washington lawyer, Emmet Flood, to discuss coming on board to take over the president's dealings with Mueller's office and possibly replacing Don McGahn as White House counsel.
The Times reported in January that Trump backed down in June from his demand that Mueller be fired, after McGahn threatened to quit. A month later, Trump said in an interview with the Times that the special counsel would be crossing a red line if he looked into his family's finances beyond any relationship with Russia.
After the Trump Organization subpoena was reported on Thursday, Trump's lawyers were said to have privately tried to play it down, in part to keep the president and his family calm.
Dowd has been at the center of a string of problematic episodes in recent months. In December, he said he had written a tweet posted by the president that implied Trump knew when he fired Flynn that the adviser had lied to the FBI.
Months earlier, Dowd was overheard by a Times reporter discussing details of a dispute inside the president's legal team over lunch at a Washington steakhouse.
Given concerns about whether Trump could move to fire Mueller, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Twitter that "every member of Congress, Republican and Democrat, needs to speak up in defense of the Special Counsel. Now."
Other Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, also spoke against the move to fire McCabe and against Dowd's response.
"Dowd's comments are yet another indication that the first instinct of [the president] and his legal team is not to cooperate with Special Counsel Mueller, but to undermine him at every turn," Schumer said in a statement.
Information for this article was contributed by Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times; by Chris Strohm, Toluse Olorunnipa, Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Shannon Pettypiece of Bloomberg News; and by Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker of The Washington Post.
A Section on 03/18/2018
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