In this June 9, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump listens during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. A clear majority of Americans believe Trump has tried to interfere with the investigation into Russia’s alleged election meddling and possible Trump campaign collusion, a new poll shows. (Susan Walsh / AP)
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has acknowledged for the first time that he is under federal investigation as part of the expanding probe into Russia's election meddling.
He lashed out at a top Justice Department official overseeing the inquiry, reflecting his mounting frustration with the unrelenting controversy that has consumed his early presidency.
"I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt," the president wrote in a Friday tweet.
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.
Donald Trump, US President
His morning missive apparently referred to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general whose role leading the federal investigation has become increasingly complicated. The White House has used a memo he wrote to justify Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, but that Trump action may now be part of the probe. Thursday night, Rosenstein issued an unusual statement complaining about leaks in the case.
Trump advisers and confidants describe the president as increasingly angry over the investigation, yelling at television sets in the White House carrying coverage and insisting he is the target of a conspiracy to discredit — and potentially end — his presidency. Some of his ire is aimed at Rosenstein and investigative special counsel Robert Mueller, both of whom the president believes are biased against him, associates say.
Dianne Feinstein, top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she was "increasingly concerned" that Trump will fire both Mueller and Rosenstein.
"The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn't apply to him and that anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired," Feinstein said.
"That's undemocratic on its face and a blatant violation of the president's oath of office."
Aides have counseled the president to stay off Twitter and focus on other aspects of his job. They have tried to highlight the positive reviews he received Wednesday when he made a statesman-like appearance in the White House to address the nation after Rep. Steve Scalise was shot during a congressional baseball practice.
Yet Trump's angry tweets on Friday underscored the near-impossible challenge his advisers and legal team have in trying to get him to avoid weighing in on an active probe.
In this June 13, 2017 file photo, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Donald Trump confirmed, June 16, 2017, he was under investigation and appeared to take aim at a senior Justice Department official, in a tweet that seemed to encapsulate his frustration with the ongoing focus on Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. (Alex Brandon / AP)
The president has denied that he has any nefarious ties to Russia and has also disputed that he's attempted to block the investigation into his campaign's possible role in Russia's election-related hacking. It was unclear whether his tweet about being under investigation was based on direct knowledge or new media reports that suggest Mueller is examining whether the president obstructed justice by firing Comey.
Trump has told associates he has the legal authority to fire Mueller. What is clear is that he could order the Justice Department to ax Mueller, which may result in Rosenstein's departure and would certainly intensify the uproar over the investigation.
Rosenstein has been overseeing the Russia probe since shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. But Rosenstein, too, may ultimately have to hand off oversight given his role in Trump's decision to fire Comey.