U.S. President Donald Trump Wednesday decried the "never ending and corrupt" investigation into links between his 2016 campaign for the presidency and Russia, which he acknowledged is taking "tremendous time and focus" for him.
In one of a string of early morning Twitter comments, the U.S. leader assailed Monday's FBI raid on the New York office and hotel residence of his personal attorney Michael Cohen to seize financial records and documents related to payoffs before the election to adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep them quiet about affairs they claim to have had with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied the purported liaisons.
Trump repeated his continuing rebuttal that his campaign colluded with Russia to help him win or that he has obstructed justice to thwart special counsel Robert Mueller's criminal investigation, "other than I fight back."
"So now they do the Unthinkable," Trump complained, "and RAID a lawyers office for information! BAD!" In a subsequent tweet, Trump criticized Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as "conflicted."
Despite the ongoing Russia probe, Trump said on Twitter he is "very calm and calculated" in handling other issues, including a threatened air strike against Syria for last weekend's chemical weapons attack that killed more than 40 people.
Authority to fire Mueller?
Trump's broadside against the Russia investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller came hours after the White House asserted that Trump has the authority to fire Mueller. CNN reported that Trump is considering dismissing Rosenstein, who is overseeing Mueller's investigation.
"We've been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Tuesday when they asked about Trump's power to fire Mueller.
Many legal experts said the president would have to take such an action through Rosenstein, who could refuse to comply.
A number of Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans in Congress have warned such a drastic move would imperil Trump's presidency and possibly trigger a constitutional crisis.
"I think it would be suicide for the president" to fire Mueller, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, said on CNN on Tuesday. Grassley called on Trump to let the special counsel's probe go forward.
Republican Senators Thom Tillis and Lindsey Graham, as well as Democratic Senators Chris Coons and Cory Booker, are backing legislation that would give additional job protections to special counsels.
The New York Times reported late Tuesday that Trump demanded Mueller be fired in December and his investigation shut down.
The Times story was based on interviews with a number of White House officials. It says Trump was infuriated by newspaper reports that Mueller's office was issuing subpoenas over his business dealings with Deutsche Bank.
The reports turned out to be inaccurate. But the Times story illustrates Trump's state of mind when it comes to Mueller possibly expanding his investigation from Russian election meddling into other matters concerning the president.
Rosenstein finds himself as the point person because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation.
The president has never forgiven Sessions for the recusal, White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged Tuesday.
Trump has called Sessions' recusal a "terrible mistake."
Asked by a reporter if he had spoken with Trump on Tuesday, Sessions said, "Not today."
VOA followed up with a question to Sessions about the status of his relationship with the president — amid speculation Trump could fire him at any time — but the attorney general did not reply.
With Sessions' recusal, Rosenstein would also have been the one to have asked judges to approve Monday's FBI raids on the New York office and hotel room of Trump's personal lawyer, Cohen.
Trump on Tuesday continued to rail about the raids, calling them "a total witch hunt."
Huckabee Sanders said she is not aware of whether Cohen continues to represent Trump.
FBI agents executed search warrants and seized financial documents and other records possibly related to Trump's contacts with his personal attorney who allegedly paid hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal before the 2016 presidential election.
Cohen called the raids "upsetting" and said he was mostly concerned about his family. He told CNN he believes everything he did concerning Stormy Daniels was legal, but said he would be lying if he said he was not worried.
Trump has said he had no knowledge of the payment to Daniels, who media reports say is cooperating with federal investigators.
"The president has been clear that he thinks that this has gone too far," Sanders told reporters Tuesday concerning the scope and direction of Mueller's investigation.
With the special counsel's findings, "we could see criminal charges that implicate Donald Trump in some way and that, even if they don't lead to an indictment, provide the basis for possible action in Congress, which could mean impeachment," American University assistant professor of government Chris Edelson said.
But Edelson, also a fellow at the Center for Congressional and Political Studies, said he does not expect such action soon because even if Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in the November election, it would take a two-thirds majority in the Republican-controlled Senate to remove the president.
This report was written by VOA's Steve Herman and Ken Bredemeier.