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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this June 21, 2017, file photo, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, departs Capitol Hill following a closed door meeting in Washington. President Donald Trump is questioning the impartiality of Mueller's investigation and says the probe is groundless, while raising doubts about whether a fired top FBI official kept personal memos outlining his interactions with Trump. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump on Sunday questioned the impartiality of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

"Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary [Clinton] supporters, and Zero Republicans?" Trump asked early Sunday on Twitter. Saying that the team had recently added another Democrat, Trump asked, "Does anyone think this is fair?"

Some of Mueller's investigators have contributed to Democratic political candidates, but Justice Department policy and federal service laws bar discrimination in the hiring of career positions on the basis of political affiliation. Mueller is a Republican who served as FBI director after being appointed by President George W. Bush.

Sunday's tweet was only the second time Trump had singled out Mueller by name on Twitter. The first came Saturday, when Trump wrote, "The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime."

Lawyers had previously advised Trump not to directly criticize Mueller for fear of aggravating prosecutors. The lawyers, who have been negotiating terms for Mueller to interview the president, had assured Trump for most of last year that the investigation would wrap up by the end of 2017, said a person familiar with the matter.

However, there are strong signals that the special counsel and his team of 17 prosecutors have more work ahead of them.

A top adviser to Trump said Sunday that the White House has grown weary of the inquiry.

"We have cooperated in every single way, every single paper they've asked for, every single interview," Marc Short, the president's legislative director, said on CBS' Face the Nation.

Short noted that the investigation has been going on for more than a year and that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have already concluded that there was no evidence the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

"I think at some point the American people are owed an answer to say, 'OK, if there was no collusion, how much longer will this drag on?'" he said.

Aides and friends say they understand Trump's frustration with an investigation that hangs over his presidency.

"When he says it's a political witch hunt, I think he's right," said Christopher Ruddy, chief executive officer of the conservative news website Newsmax and a longtime Trump friend.

LAWYER SPEAKS OUT

Trump's legal team -- namely attorney Ty Cobb -- has counseled the president to cooperate with Mueller. Cobb said late Sunday that Trump is not thinking about or talking about firing the special counsel.

"In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the Administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller," Cobb said in a written statement.

Cobb spoke out after a day in which many Senate Republicans cautioned Trump against doing anything to curtail Mueller's investigation.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., repeated a previous comment that removing Mueller would be the beginning of the end of Trump's presidency.

"[Mueller] is following the evidence where it takes him, and I think it's very important he be allowed to do his job without interference," Graham said on CNN's State of the Union. "There are many Republicans who share my view."

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he doesn't see Trump firing Mueller.

"The clearest thing that I can explain from that is the president's exceptionally frustrated, that he wants to be able to see this investigation come to an end," Lankford said on ABC's This Week.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a frequent critic of Trump, said he expects that his colleagues would resist if the president tried to remove Mueller.

"People see that as a massive red line that can't be crossed," Flake said on CNN. "I hope that the pushback is now to keep the president from going there."

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Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., warned of dire repercussions if the president tried to remove the special counsel. Trump cannot directly fire Mueller, who can only be dismissed for cause. Any dismissal of Mueller would have to be carried out by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and has publicly expressed his support for the special counsel.

However, Trump can order Attorney General Jeff Sessions to tell Rosenstein to fire Mueller. Gowdy said Trump could fire Sessions, Rosenstein or both if they refused.

"The president's going to have a really difficult time nominating and having approved another attorney general," Gowdy said on Fox News Sunday. "I would just counsel the president -- it's going to be a very, very long, bad 2018. It's going to be distracting from other things that he wants to do and he was elected do. Let it play out its course. If you've done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible."

CRITICISM OF McCABE

Trump also used Twitter to challenge the honesty of Andrew McCabe, the fired FBI deputy director, and James Comey, the bureau's former director. The Associated Press reported that McCabe kept personal memos detailing his interactions with Trump -- memos that were similar to notes compiled by Comey.

"Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me," Trump tweeted Sunday. "I don't believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?"

Comey had been supervising the investigation into Russian interference until Trump fired him last year, citing Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email practices. A Trump confidant who asked not to be named said the president believes Comey will seek to enrich himself by besmirching Trump's reputation. Comey's book, A Higher Loyalty, will be released next month, and it topped Amazon.com's best-seller list on Sunday.

Given McCabe's role as a witness with details about Comey's firing, his termination could add to an obstruction of justice case against Trump, said William Yeomans, a 26-year Justice Department veteran who's served as an acting assistant attorney general. Sessions fired McCabe late Friday, ahead of his planned retirement on Sunday at age 50, a move that Trump celebrated on Twitter as a "a great day for Democracy."

"If anybody had any doubts about the integrity of this process, they were put to rest by the president's tweet, which basically announced he had forced this, and it was a good thing that this long-serving FBI employee who had done some wonderful things during his career was going to be forced out two days before he qualified for his retirement," Yeomans said in an interview.

Sessions said he was responding to a report by the Justice Department's inspector general and finding by the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility. Those offices found that McCabe hadn't been fully forthcoming with investigators in discussing his contacts with a reporter, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department attorney now serving as one of McCabe's lawyers, said the veteran FBI agent was fired after the disclosure that he's a cooperating witness against Trump.

Now that McCabe has lost his job and possibly a substantial portion of the pension accrued in more than two decades with the FBI, he has little reason not to speak out, Bromwich said.

McCabe is "a loose cannon right now. Talk about a guy who has nothing to lose -- literally, nothing to lose," said Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who's now managing director of the international investigation firm Berkeley Research Group LLC. "If he was holding anything back out of loyalty to the FBI or a sense of duty -- well, that just walked out the door. If he has any information he hasn't revealed out of a sense of loyalty, that might be told now."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Sunday that McCabe's firing risks demoralizing and "smearing" agents.

"He should have been allowed to finish through the weekend," Rubio said on NBC's Meet the Press. "I would've certainly done it differently."

Asked whether he's concerned about the damage done to the FBI's reputation, Rubio said there are ways to hold people accountable but that "we need to be very careful about taking these very important entities and smearing everybody in them with a broad stroke."

"Obviously [the president] doesn't like McCabe, and he's made that pretty clear now for over a year," Rubio said.

McCabe, who joined the FBI in 1996, helped oversee the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email practices in 2016. However, Trump has argued that McCabe was tainted because his wife ran for the Virginia state Senate as a Democrat in 2015. During her losing campaign, Jill McCabe received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from an organization controlled by Terry McAuliffe, then the Virginia governor and a longtime friend of Hillary and Bill Clinton.

Information for this article was contributed by Darlene Superville, Chad Day, Eric Tucker and Jonathan Lemire of The Associated Press; by Mark Niquette, Shannon Pettypiece, Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Chris Strohm, Toluse Olorunnipa and Janet Ong of Bloomberg News; and by Peter Baker of The New York Times.

A Section on 03/19/2018

Print Headline: Trump casts doubts on inquiry's fairness

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  • TuckerMax
    March 19, 2018 at 6:08 a.m.

    Your headline, "Trump casts doubts on inquiry's fairness" is BS. Trump acts like a cornered wounded animal, and his tweets admit criminal obstruction of justice. It's only a matter of time until he is named as an unindicted co-conspirator like Nixon was.

  • RBear
    March 19, 2018 at 6:31 a.m.

    Many are now looking at the firing of McCabe as vindictive regardless of the IG report. Firing someone hours before they qualified for their retirement is par for the course for this president who doesn't really care about anything other than himself. McCabe did what he should do and turn his notes over to the Mueller investigation. Trump's comments about the notes shows how little he understands FBI investigative reporting. Remember, the man can't even handle staff briefings.
    ...
    Trump's tweets show he is trying to test the waters about firing Mueller regardless what SHS says. I've gotten to the point where nothing she says matters any more. She's just standing in front of a mic filling time with reporters in the daily press briefings. This may have been her "dream gig," but it's pretty much tarnished her reputation.

  • BoudinMan
    March 19, 2018 at 7:04 a.m.

    Fair, shmair. trump is heading into Nixon territory. Mueller is tightening the noose. I hope there are enough repubs with a shred of integrity left to let the investigation continue. Yesterday, Trey Gowdy sounded like he would be a vote to allow it. Allow me to dig this chestnut up from the Nixon era: the American people need to know whether or not their president is a crook.

  • RobertBolt
    March 19, 2018 at 7:23 a.m.

    Whether or not Agent Orange fires Mueller, which party ultimately leads in firing Trump? I hope the Democrats are in the majority when it happens, so Pence's Presidency (if he is not also removed) will be delayed, brief, and ineffectual.

  • hah406
    March 19, 2018 at 8:06 a.m.

    I am casting doubts on Trump's sanity. It seems unwise to poke the bear (the FBI) when the bear is considering whether or not to eat you. McCabe may have failed to speak with candor when questioned. I don't know, as the report isn't public. But regardless, now his firing just seems rushed and vindictive, especially since the report isn't complete. Trump is so differential to the Russians they have to have serious dirt on him. I am guessing that he is financially compromised, along with some pictures of a well known man-whore wondering off the reservation again.

  • TimberTopper
    March 19, 2018 at 8:08 a.m.

    LOL! Trump has no clue as to what is fairness. Ask the many he has screwed out of money about his fairness.

  • shortfinger1001
    March 19, 2018 at 9:01 a.m.

    Comrade President Trump is the BEST president rubles can buy!

  • Whippersnapper
    March 19, 2018 at 9:14 a.m.

    Sad that folks are claiming that the scumbag Trump is being investigated in pursuit of Justice, and when McCabe is given Justice (he knew the rules and chose to break them), his supporters cry foul. I know that I pledge allegiance to a flag that stands for liberty and justice for all. That includes the President, and that includes McCabe. How many people screaming for McCabe to be allowed to serve the remainder of his term and retire with full benefits will be screaming for Trump to be allowed to finish his term if evidence of collusion is found? Oh yeah - none.

  • 23cal
    March 19, 2018 at 9:41 a.m.

    Whipper:
    Your pretense that talking to the Wall Street Journal deserves equal punishment to colluding with adversarial states to the harm of America and the undermining of the foundational electoral process is beneath you. Your pretense that taking away the fruits of an honorable 20 year career due to vindictiveness is the same as deep-sixing someone from a temp job which he cheated with our enemy to obtain is beneath you. Your assumption that firing was "justice" when there were other options which would have served justice is nothing but that....an assumption. We all know the old saying about assumptions.

  • Whippersnapper
    March 19, 2018 at 9:53 a.m.

    23:
    They are not "equal punishments" and it is not a pretense. To be "equal punishments" the people being punished would have to be giving up equal things. Are you asserting that serving as a member of the FBI is the same as serving as the most powerful man in the world? Are you asserting that the salary, pension, and benefits of an FBI agent are the same as those of a President? Was McCabe in line for secret service protection for life?
    .
    The alleged crimes are both crimes, and they both had clearly delineated consequences. The clearly delineated consequence of Trump's alleged crimes is impeachment, disgrace, and possible criminal prosecution. The clearly delineated consequence of McCabe's offenses were immediate termination (he got that), loss of accrued benefits (he got that) and possible criminal prosecution if the independent investigators deem it worth prosecuting. That remains to be seen.
    .
    Justice means you follow the rules laid out for you, regardless of who you are. MCabe chose to ignore the rules and is suffering the clear and explicit consequences of his choice. If Trump colluded with Russia, he should suffer the clear and explicit consequences of his choice. Justice means I don't care if you are President or Dog Catcher, you agree to follow the rules and suffer the consequences if you choose not to do so. McCabe wants Justice for Trump (assuming Trump is guilty) and Mercy for himself. That position holds no water.
    .
    In this case, the independent investigators have determined that McCabe broke the rules and they RECOMMENDED his termination. No such parallel exists for Trump (yet).

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