A friend of Donald Trump on Monday raised the politically explosive possibility that the president could take action to fire Robert S. Mueller III, the recently appointed special counsel tasked with looking into Russian meddling in last year’s election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.
“I think he’s considering perhaps terminating the special counsel,” Christopher Ruddy said during an appearance on PBS’s “NewsHour.” “I think he’s weighing that option.”
Ruddy, who is chief executive of Newsmax Media and a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., confirmed his view in a text message to The Washington Post but did not elaborate. Ruddy told PBS that he thinks it would be “a very significant mistake” for Trump to seek Mueller’s termination.
Ruddy was at the White House on Monday but did not meet with the president, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.
“Chris Ruddy speaks for himself,” Spicer said.
Ruddy appears to have based his assessment on public comments made over the weekend by a member of Trump’s personal legal team.
During a Sunday television appearance on ABC News' “This Week,” Jay Sekulow said he was “not going to speculate” on whether the president might order the firing of Mueller. But Sekulow added that he “can't imagine the issue is going to arise.”
On PBS on Monday, Ruddy said that Trump’s consideration of moving to fire Mueller was “pretty clear by what one of his lawyers said on television recently.”
Trump does have the authority to remove the special counsel. Muller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Trump could order Rosenstein to fire Mueller or he could order that regulations that govern the appointment be repealed and then fire Mueller himself.
Such an action, though, would be politically perilous at a time when some Trump critics are already accusing him of obstruction of justice in the wake of his firing of former FBI director James B. Comey. Former president Richard Nixon's attempt to remove a special prosecutor during his tenure led to the resignations of two top Justice Department officials amid the Watergate scandal.
In a statement Tuesday morning, Ruddy characterized Spicer's response to the episode as “bizarre,” pointing out that he had never claimed to have talked to the president.
“Memo to Sean: focus your efforts on exposing the flim-flam Russian allegations against POTUS and highlighting his remarkable achievements!” Ruddy said in the statement. “Don't waste time trying to undermine one of your few allies.”
The prospect floated by Ruddy puts Rosenstein in an awkward position. He is scheduled to testify before two congressional hearings Tuesday and is likely to face even more pointed questions about the Russia probe and the independence of the Justice Department in light of Ruddy's comments.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is also scheduled Tuesday to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, a venue where the possibility of firing Mueller could arise. Sessions has recused himself from the Russian probe, a move that gave Rosenstein the authority to appoint a special counsel.
Rosenstein could not be reached for comment. Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior declined to comment on the possibility of Trump seeking to remove Mueller.
Some other Trump allies have also floated the notion in recent days of ditching Mueller. In a tweet on Sunday, former House speaker Newt Gingrich said: “Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. … Time to rethink.”
Philip Rucker, Matt Zapotosky, Sari Horwitz and Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.