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Monday 21 August 2017

Furious Trump blasts Comey sacking probe 'witch hunt'

Donald Trump is furious that he is being investigated for sacking FBI chief James Comey (AP)
Donald Trump is furious that he is being investigated for sacking FBI chief James Comey (AP)

Donald Trump has acknowledged for the first time that he is being investigated for sacking FBI director James Comey during the probe into Russia's election meddling - and lashed out at the Justice Department chief overseeing the inquiry.

The US president's attack, which appears to target Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general whois leading the government investigation, reflects Mr Trump's mounting frustration with the unrelenting controversy that has consumed his early presidency.

"I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt," the president said on Twitter.

The White House has used a memo written by Mr Rosenstein to justify Mr Trump's decision to sack Mr Comey, but that Trump action may now be part of the probe.

Mr Rosenstein issued an unusual statement on Thursday night complaining about leaks in the case.

Trump advisers and confidants describe the president as increasingly angry over the investigation, yelling at TV sets in the White House carrying coverage and insisting he is the target of a conspiracy to discredit - and potentially end - his presidency.

Some of his ire is aimed at Mr Rosenstein and investigative special counsel Robert Mueller, both of whom the president believes are biased against him, associates say.

Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she was "increasingly concerned" that Mr Trump will sack both Mr Mueller and Mr Rosenstein.

"The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn't apply to him and that anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired," she said.

"That's undemocratic on its face and a blatant violation of the president's oath of office."

Aides have counseled Mr Trump to stay off Twitter and focus on other aspects of his job.

They have tried to highlight the positive reviews he received on Wednesday when he made a statesman-like appearance in the White House to address the nation after House of Representatives Republican whip Steve Scalise was shot during a congressional baseball practice.

Yet his angry tweets on Friday underscored the near-impossible challenge his advisers and legal team have in trying to get him to avoid interfering in an active probe.

The president has denied that he has any nefarious ties to Russia and has also disputed that he attempted to block the investigation into his campaign's possible role in Mocsow's election-related hacking.

It was unclear whether his tweet about being under investigation was based on direct knowledge or new media reports that suggest Mr Mueller is examining whether the president obstructed justice by firing Mr Comey.

The tweets came shortly after Mr Rosenstein issued his unusual statement that appeared to be warning about the accuracy of such reports.

"Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations," Mr Rosenstein said.

"The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations."

The department would not comment on the record on whether Mr Trump, who has repeatedly complained about leaks on the case, requested the statement.

But a department official said no-one asked for the statement and Mr Rosenstein acted on his own.

Mr Trump has told associates he has the legal authority to sack Mr Mueller.

What is clear is that he could order the Justice Department to axe Mr Mueller, which may result in Mr Rosenstein's departure and would certainly intensify the uproar over the investigation.

Though some in the White House have preached caution, fearing a repeat of the firestorm over Mr Comey's sacking, many in Mr Trump's orbit, including his son Donald Jr and adviser Newt Gingrich, have deemed Mr Mueller biased and worthy of dismissal.

Mr Rosenstein has been overseeing the Russia probe since shortly after attorney general Jeff Sessions recused himself.

But Mr Rosenstein, too, may ultimately have to end his oversight, given his role in Mr Trump's decision to fire Mr Comey.

Earlier this month Mr Rosenstein said "if anything that I did winds up being relevant to his investigation then, as Director Mueller and I discussed, if there's a need from me to recuse, I will".

Mr Trump's tweets came after the top lawyer for his transition team warned the organisation's officials to preserve all records and other materials related to the Russia probe.

A Trump's transition official confirmed the lawyer's internal order, which was sent on Thursday.

The order from the general counsel for the transition team casts a wide net on documents that could shed light on ties between Mr Trump's presidential campaign and representatives of Russia's government.

The order also covers separate inquiries into several key Trump associates including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, campaign adviser Paul Manafort, foreign policy aide Carter Page and outside adviser Roger Stone.

The White House has directed questions for details to outside legal counsel, which has not responded.

Vice president Mike Pence, who headed the Trump transition until Inauguration Day, has also hired a private lawyer to represent his interests in the expanding probe a nd Mr Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has retained a brief to represent him.

Mr Cohen has worked for Mr Trump since the mid-2000s and was active in the campaign. He has already been subpoenaed by the House of Representatives intelligence committee.

AP

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