President Donald Trump “certainly believes he has the power” to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday.
After months of dismissing questions about whether the president is considering firing Mueller, Sanders told reporters that the White House has been advised by legal experts and the Department of Justice that it is in the president’s authority.
“I know a number of individuals in the legal community and including the Department of Justice said he has the power to do so,” Sanders said.
On Monday, Trump mused about firing Mueller before a meeting with military leaders at the White House.
“Why don’t I just fire Mueller? Well I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on. We’ll see what happens. But I think it’s really a sad situation when you look at what happened. Many people have said you should fire him,” Trump said. “So we’ll see what happens. I think it’s disgraceful and so do a lot of other people. This is a pure and simple witch hunt.”
The regulations governing the special counsel stipulate that the “special counsel may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General.”
Because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the special counsel’s investigation and all things related to the 2016 presidential campaign, the responsibility to fire Mueller would fall to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Trump would have to order Rosenstein to carry out the firing.
The White House counsel’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
On Tuesday, lawmakers on Capitol Hill warned Trump against removing Mueller from the investigation.
The GOP chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said during an interview with CNN that it would be “political suicide” for Trump to fire Mueller.
“I think the less the president says about this whole thing, the better off he will be. And I think that Mueller is a person of stature and respected and I respect him. Just let the thing go forward,” Grassley said.
“It’s still my view that Mueller should be allowed to finish his job,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.
“Interfering with the investigation is a disgrace, calling it an attack on our country is a disgrace,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
On Monday night, Trump fumed about news that his personal attorney Michael Cohen’s office was raided by the FBI, calling it an “attack on our country.”
Sanders, when pressed about the president’s comments by ABC, simply referred back to Trump.
“I think that the president is clear that he thinks this has gone too far and beyond that, I don’t have anything to add,” said Sanders.