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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Donald Trump seethes against Russia probe ‘disgrace’

Diatribe came amid claims president is manoeuvring to have Robert Mueller fired or otherwise shut down

Robert Mueller departs after briefing the US House Intelligence Committee on his investigation. Reuters
Robert Mueller departs after briefing the US House Intelligence Committee on his investigation. Reuters

President Donald Trump seethed Thursday that investigators probing alleged collusion between Russian agents and his election campaign have gone “totally nuts” and are a “disgrace”.

Even by the standards of his frequent barrages against special counsel Robert Mueller, Mr Trump’s early morning tweet storm was blistering.

“A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!” he wrote.

The diatribe came amid claims that Mr Trump is manoeuvring to have Mr Mueller fired or otherwise shut down before he can close in on the president and his inner circle, including family members.

Last week, Mr Trump sacked his attorney general Jeff Sessions, replacing him with Matthew Whitaker, who is on the record as being harshly critical of the Mueller investigation.

The switch ignited a wave of protests from Trump’s Democratic opponents but the president on Thursday doubled down on his rejection of Mr Mueller and “his gang of Democrat thugs.”

“They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want,” Mr Trump wrote.

“They are a disgrace to our Nation and don’t care how many lives (they) ruin,” he wrote, branding the investigators “Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller.”

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Mr Mueller, a former director of the FBI and a Vietnam War veteran, is leading one of the most explosive probes in US political history.

Mr Trump and his campaign are alleged to have received help from Russian agents seeking to help defeat his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton or at least to undermine confidence in US democracy.

Mr Trump has always denied any such links and rejected the idea that Moscow played a significant role in influencing the dramatic election.

But Mr Mueller has quietly chipped away, indicting several dozen people, most of them Russians. He has also charged four Trump associates, although on charges not directly related to the alleged Russian interference.

Now Washington is on tenterhooks while waiting for Mr Mueller, who works in near total secrecy, to issue his final report.

As expectations of a showdown mount, Mr Trump has become ever more defensive, his grim mood worsened by his Republican party’s battering last week in midterm congressional elections, where they retained the Senate but lost the House of Representatives.

Starting in January, Democrats say they will use House investigative committees to open further probes of Mr Trump’s businesses and his connections to Russia.

Republicans, with few exceptions, are rallying around the president.

On Wednesday, Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a frequent critic, joined Democratic Senator Chris Coons in an attempt to introduce a measure in the upper chamber to protect Mueller. However, it was blocked by Senate majority leader and key Trump ally Mitch McConnell.

Mr Whitaker’s fired predecessor Sessions had formally stepped aside from any control over Mr Mueller, so as to avoid any conflicts of interest.

Democrats want Mr Sessions’ replacement to do likewise, but there is no indication that he will.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer has said that if Whitaker refuses to recuse himself, Democrats will seek to attach legislation protecting Mueller to a must-pass spending bill that will be up for consideration in the coming weeks.

“Last night, Senate Republicans blocked a bill to protect Mueller. This morning, Trump showed again why we need it,” Adam Schiff, a Democrat in the House, tweeted.

“We will do everything in our power to protect the Mueller investigation, the independence of the Department of Justice, and the rule of law.”