WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump is not obstructing the federal criminal investigation into Russian interference in the election that he won, rather he is "fighting back," according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.
Sanders made the remark to reporters Wednesday in a White House briefing hours after Trump made his most forceful call yet for an end to the special counsel's investigation.
The president said Robert Mueller's 14-month investigation of his campaign's links to Russia is "a terrible situation," and he tweeted that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who is the country's top law enforcement officer, "should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further."
Sanders said Trump's tweet "is not an order, it's the president's opinion," adding that as far as she knew, Trump has not transmitted any formal directive to Justice Department top officials to stop the investigation.
The attorney general, more than a year ago, removed himself from oversight of the probe because of his own contacts with Russia, leaving that role to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, whom some Republican lawmakers want impeached.
Some senators of the president's party are defending the investigation.
"I support the probe to find out what Russia did to influence our election in 2016," Senator John Kennedy of the state of Louisiana and a member of the judiciary committee, told reporters Wednesday, adding that the attorney general "had no choice" but to recuse himself.
"I don't fully get what he's trying to do," said Utah's Orrin Hatch, a former chairman of the senate's judiciary committee, when asked by reporters about the president's tweets, adding that while many would like the Mueller probe to go away, "that's not going to happen."
The third highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune of the state of South Dakota, said that "most of us up here believe the process needs to play out, and it will."
Sanders, in her remarks to reporters in the briefing room Wednesday, said Mueller's probe has "come up with nothing with regard to the president," and the press secretary expressed expectations the investigation will soon conclude.
Trump contended in another tweet the appointed special counsel "is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!"
..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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018
Trump's pressure on Sessions came on the second day of the tax and bank fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, with the president, in another tweet, calling the trial "a hoax" and attempting to distance himself from the case in a courtroom just outside Washington. Manafort is accused of hiding millions of dollars he earned lobbying for deposed Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukovych in the years before his work for the Trump campaign.
"Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders," Trump said. "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!"
Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders. 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018
Trump's Wednesday tweets are "just one more piece of circumstantial evidence of corrupt intent that Mueller will incorporate into his analysis of whether the president sought to obstruct justice," according to national security lawyer Bradley Moss.
"Whether this will result in increased risk of a successful impeachment and conviction of President Trump is a purely political calculation," Moss, deputy executive director of the James Madison Project, told VOA.
Rosenstein named Mueller to lead the investigation of Russia's involvement in the 2016 election after Trump, in May the following year, fired FBI Director James Comey, who was at the time heading the agency's Russia probe.
Trump has declined to fire any of the officials, however, perhaps because some lawmakers, including Republican colleagues of Trump's, have warned him that his dismissal of any of the officials could lead to impeachment hearings against him in the House of Representatives.
Mueller has secured guilty pleas from a handful of Trump aides for lying to investigators about their contacts with Russia and indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officials on charges of hacking into computers of Democratic operatives supporting Trump's opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, and then releasing emails through WikiLeaks.
Mueller's probe is continuing, and there is no deadline for its completion, although a Trump lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said this week he thinks it could be finished next month, ahead of November's nationwide congressional elections.