President Trump calls on Jeff Sessions to stop Robert Mueller’s Russia probe “right now,” raising concerns over obstruction of justice

By Chris Megerian, Noah Bierman and Eliza Fawcett

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now,” opening the president to further complaints that he is trying to obstruct the investigation into Russia’s election interference and his campaign’s possible complicity.

Trump is already reportedly under investigation for potential obstruction of the Russia probe led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. His tweet early Wednesday was the president’s most explicit statement to date seemingly aimed at getting his attorney general, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, to end the probe.

The tweet, along with several others on Wednesday morning, reflected the president’s accelerated attacks on the investigation, which he claims is tainted by bias. They coincided with the second day of the trial of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, on 18 charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and conspiracy.

Manafort’s trial continued in Alexandria, Va., with testimony from several more witnesses for the prosecution, including a political consultant who worked with him in Ukraine for the pro-Russia government at the time; an FBI agent who helped search his condo last year; and an employee from a high-end menswear store who said Manafort would pay for custom suits with wire transfers from overseas accounts.

Prosecutors have accused Manafort of using more than 30 such accounts in three foreign countries — Cyprus, the Seychelles, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines — to avoid paying U.S. taxes on $15 million of income.

The president suggested in a tweet that Manafort was being treated worse than Al Capone, the notorious Prohibition-era Chicago gangster who was also prosecuted for tax evasion. “Where is the Russian Collusion?” Trump added.

Trump’s tweets prompted Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, to accuse the president of obstruction “hiding in plain sight.”

“The President of the United States just called on his Attorney General to put an end to an investigation in which the President, his family and campaign may be implicated,” Schiff tweeted. “This is an attempt to obstruct justice hiding in plain sight. America must never accept it.”

The Justice Department says a president cannot face criminal charges while in office. But depending on what Mueller uncovers, including on obstruction, Congress could decide to pursue impeachment. President Bill Clinton was impeached by the U.S. House for perjury and obstruction in 1998, a time when Congress likewise was under Republicans’ control, though the Senate voted for acquittal.

Contrary to Trump’s tweet, Sessions doesn’t have power to stop the investigation because he recused himself from the Russia investigation more than a year ago. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein became responsible for the probe, appointed Mueller and supervises his work.

“It’s a tweet that’s just blowing in the wind, because Sessions has already recused himself from the Russia investigation,” said John Yoo, a University of California, Berkeley law professor who served in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Even so, the episode once again forced the White House and Trump’s allies to defend a presidential tweet aimed at undermining the investigation.

Although the White House and the Justice Department previously have said that Trump’s tweets are official presidential statements, his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani responded to the latest one as he has before, by brushing off suggestions that Trump’s tweets could be used as evidence of obstruction.

“The president was expressing his opinion on his favored medium for asserting his First Amendment right of free speech,” Giuliani said in an interview. “He said ‘should,’ not ‘must,’ and no presidential order was issued or will be.”

Giuliani said he spoke with Trump to make sure that the president wasn’t actually issuing an order. “I talked to him about it to make sure he was on the same page as we are,” Giuliani said, and the president indicated he was not ordering Sessions to act.

Giuliani told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that all of Trump’s tweets “don’t amount to anything.” He added, “Obstruction by tweet is not something I think works real well. Generally obstruction is secret, it’s clandestine, it’s corrupt.”

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