President Donald Trump began his Thursday by implying he has the authority to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and denying he sent signals that an attack on Syria was imminent.
He also appeared unaware — or unwilling to acknowledge — that California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to his request to send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in his state, just not for the immigration enforcement mission the president wants.
In the course of 12 minutes starting at 6:03 a.m., Trump took on three of the most contentious issues facing his turbulent and unpredictable presidency. And he started with the ongoing drama that is the Mueller-led Justice Department probe of Russian election meddling and possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and the Kremlin.
Trump made clear Thursday morning he has concluded he has the power to fire Mueller, something legal experts question.
“If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December … I would have fired him,” Trump tweeted.
If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by the Failing New York Times, I would have fired him. Just more Fake News from a biased newspaper!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2018
That lines up with what his top spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Tuesday, telling reporters Trump “certainly believes he has the power to do so.” Asked again, she said White House officials have “been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision.” She and another spokesman had not responded to an email Thursday morning requesting more information about the origin of that legal conclusion.
Democratic lawmakers, joined by some prominent Republicans, warned Trump this week not to fire Mueller. Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley said in a television interview that doing so would amount to political “suicide” for Trump. Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of that panel, said Tuesday there would be a “firestorm” on Capitol Hill if the president tries to terminate Mueller.
Preet Bharara — whom Trump fired as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, reportedly over fears he would be disloyal, and whose successor carried out the Cohen raid — told CNN on Tuesday evening the special counsel statute does not give the president power to terminate Mueller.
The president was reacting in his early morning tweets to a New York Times article published Wednesday that alleged Trump fumed in December about reports saying Mueller’s team was looking into his business dealings with Deutsche Bank. Trump concluded the probe was crossing what he called a “red line” by investigating his business. (The Times reported the president cooled down after his team was told by the special counsel’s office the article was not accurate.)
The president labeled the article “more Fake News from a biased newspaper!”
On Wednesday, Trump and his staff sent mixed signals about his response to a Syrian government chemical weapons attack. The commander in chief gave the impression Wednesday morning that an American response was imminent to the chemical attack that left more than 40 people, including children, dead and dozens wounded.
Lawmakers Press Pompeo On Syria Response Without Congressional Approval
In a tweet, he warned Russia to “get ready” because U.S. missile “will be coming.” He even taunted the Kremlin by promising to use America’s “new” and “smart” weapons in the coming strike. But Defense Secretary James Mattis and Sanders later made clear no final attack plan had been set in motion, with the spokeswoman saying a diplomatic solution remained possible.
The next morning, Trump played the role of White House communications director — a post still vacant after the departure of his confidant, Hope Hicks. He tweeted that he “never said when an attack on Syria would take place.”
He then slipped on his executive producer cap, essentially telling everyone from Syrian President Bashar Assad to Russian leaders to his supporters to stay tuned: “Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” He then wrote he should be thanked for how his administration has dealt with the Islamic State extremist group.
Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?”— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2018
In another tweet, the president thanked the California governor for deploying National Guard troops to his southern border. He wrote Brown is “doing the right thing” in a “good move for the safety of our Country!”
California Governor Jerry Brown is doing the right thing and sending the National Guard to the Border. Thank you Jerry, good move for the safety of our Country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2018
Trump, however, did not address an inconvenient fact: Brown, the commander in chief of California Guard forces, handed his troops a mission different from the border security and immigration enforcement operation requested by the president of that state, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.
In a letter to the Trump administration, Brown said his Guard troops would be there to help combat transnational crime organizations.
“But let’s be crystal clear on the scope of this mission. This will not be a mission to build a new wall,” Brown wrote. “It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.”
Watch: Trump Furor Over Russia Probe Could Blunt Bipartisan Push to Punish Assad