Donald Trump cast doubt on memos of conversations between him and the fired FBI deputy director that have reportedly been handed to Robert Mueller, claiming Andrew McCabe did not take notes during their meetings.
Seeing Trump’s offensive against McCabe as an attack on Mueller himself, several senior Republicans rallied to support the former FBI director who is investigating Russian election interference and links between Trump aides and Moscow.
“Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe,” Trump tweeted on Sunday morning in a volley of angry messages, “but he never took notes when he was with me. I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?”
McCabe was fired on Friday night, two days short of qualifying for his pension and officially for allowing a leak to the press and failing to be candid about it under oath.
Trump also targeted Comey, the FBI director he fired last May, a move that led to the appointment of Mueller. Comey has also said he wrote memos concerning interactions with Trump.
Trump tweeted: “Wow, watch Comey lie under oath to Senator G when asked ‘have you ever been an anonymous source … or known someone else to be an anonymous source…?’ He said strongly ‘never, no.’ He lied as shown clearly on @foxandfriends.”
Trump was evidently watching a Fox News show which played an exchange from a 3 May 2017 congressional hearing in which Comey was questioned by Republican senator Chuck Grassley and denied leaking information about FBI investigations.
Speculation over a potential move against Mueller grew on Saturday when Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, said he hoped the firing of McCabe would prompt Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to shut down the Russia inquiry.
Dowd first claimed to have been speaking for the president, then told outlets including the Guardian he was not. He then told the Axios website Trump “didn’t have any problem” with his statement.
On Sunday Trey Gowdy, the Republican chair of the House oversight committee, used an appearance on Fox News Sunday to advise: “If you have an innocent client, Mr Dowd, act like it.”
Jeff Flake, a Republican Arizona Senator and fierce critic of the president, told CNN’s State of the Union Trump “seems to be building towards” firing Mueller, adding: “I just hope it doesn’t go there, it cannot – we cannot in Congress accept that. I would expect pushback in the next few days, urging Trump not to go there.”
Former New Jersey governor and Trump ally Chris Christie told ABC’s This Week he did not think Trump would fire Mueller.
“If he did do it it would be inappropriate,” he said. “Bob Mueller has conducted this investigation so far with great integrity, without leaking and by showing results and I don’t think the president is going to fire somebody like that.”
Late on Sunday White House lawyer Ty Cobb said the president was not contemplating a move against Mueller.
“In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the Administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, told ABC both parties should oppose any move against Mueller. If it happened, he said, “I would hope that it would prompt all Democrats and Republicans in the House to pass an independent counsel law and reinstate Bob Mueller. It undoubtedly would result in a constitutional crisis.”
Schiff said Democrats on his committee “will certainly be able to show the facts supporting the issue of collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia when they issue their findings. The Republican committee leadership closed its inquiry this week and announced it had not found any such collusion.
Regarding McCabe’s dismissal, Schiff said that while it may have been justified it was too early to tell if it “could also be tainted”. He asked rhetorically whether those around Comey were being targeted because they would corroborate any charge of obstruction of justice by the president arising from Mueller’s work.
“That’s a question that we also have to answer,” he said.
The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, said on Friday he fired McCabe in part because he allowed two FBI agents to speak to a Wall Street Journal reporter about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state and the activities of the Clinton Foundation.
McCabe, who was quick to characterise his firing as an attack by the Trump administration on Mueller, has said he was authorized to allow the exchange.
On Saturday, Trump repeatedly claimed his innocence, tweeting: “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!”
On Sunday, he claimed Mueller’s team of investigators contained “13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans … another Dem recently added” and asked “does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”
Mueller and McCabe are Republicans. McCabe’s wife ran for office in Virginia as a Democrat and received donations from a political action committee run by a Clinton ally.
McCabe told Axios Trump had asked him “What was it like when your wife lost? …So tell me, what was it like to lose?” Dowd told the same website the president “never made that statement according to two others who were present”.
Comey will publish a book, entitled A Higher Loyalty, next month. On Saturday he tweeted: “Mr President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.”