WASHINGTON — President Trump called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday to end the special counsel investigation, an extraordinary appeal to the nation’s top law enforcement official to halt an inquiry directly into the president.
August 1, 2018
The order immediately raised questions from some lawyers about whether it was an attempt to obstruct justice. The special counsel, appointed last year to oversee the government’s Russia investigation, is already looking into some of the president’s previous Twitter posts and public statements to determine whether they were intended to obstruct the inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and any ties to the Trump campaign.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers quickly moved to contain the fallout, saying it was not an order to a member of his cabinet, but merely an opinion. An hour and a half after the tweet was posted, Mr. Trump’s lawyers contacted a reporter for The New York Times. In a subsequent telephone conversation, one of his lawyers, Rudolph W. Giuliani, dismissed the obstruction of justice concerns, calling it a “bizarre and novel theory of obstruction by tweet,” adding that it was “idiotic.”
never would have made Mr. Sessions his attorney general if he had known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from the inquiry.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
The president’s lawyers, Jay A. Sekulow and Mr. Giuliani, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Trump was not ordering the inquiry closed but simply expressing his opinion.
“It’s not a call to action,” Mr. Giuliani said, adding that it was a sentiment that Mr. Trump and his lawyers had previously expressed publicly and that it was a statement protected by the president’s constitutional right to free speech.
“He doesn’t feel that he has to intervene in the process, nor is he intervening,” Mr. Sekulow said.
The president wanted the legal process to play out, his lawyers said. “He’s expressing his opinion, but he’s not talking of his special powers he has” as president, Mr. Giuliani said.
trial of Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman and the first person charged in the special counsel investigation to go to trial. Mr. Manafort is accused of bank and tax fraud crimes that Mr. Trump has characterized as dated and that have nothing to do with his campaign.
In another Twitter post, Mr. Trump compared Mr. Manafort’s situation to that of the mob boss Al Capone.
“Looking back on history, who was treated worse,” Mr. Trump asked.
Urging Mr. Sessions to end the inquiry was unprecedented and amounted to Mr. Trump asking Mr. Sessions to “subvert the law,” said Matthew S. Axelrod, a longtime prosecutor who served in top roles in the Obama Justice Department.
“What he’s saying here is that there’s no one who ought to be able to investigate his actions and, if necessary, hold him accountable for those actions,” Mr. Axelrod said.
Mr. Mueller and his team are also looking into whether some of Mr. Trump’s tweets about Mr. Sessions and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey were intended to obstruct the inquiry.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, suggested on Wednesday on Twitter that the president’s latest directive to Mr. Sessions was just that.
The president’s lawyers made arguments to the special counsel’s office this year about why the president had done nothing wrong through his tweets and public statements.
“I don’t want to disclose our correspondence, but we maintain the theory of obstruction is bizarre and not supported,” Mr. Sekulow said.
On Capitol Hill, senators were busy trying to complete a batch of spending bills ahead of a weeklong recess, and the president’s appeal to Mr. Sessions was treated as an unwelcome intrusion. Democrats denounced it as a dangerous escalation that could become part of an obstruction of justice case. Republicans wagged their fingers, but conceded that the president’s tweets, in the end, probably should not be given too much weight.
“I continue to think that tweets of that nature are inappropriate and do not serve the president well,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine. “He should stay out of what is an active investigation and refrain from commenting on it.”
Katie Benner and Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.