By JONATHAN LEMIRE Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday intensified his attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation in his latest effort to undermine the findings in Mueller's highly anticipated report, saying "people will not stand for it."
The probe is widely expected to end in the coming weeks, but Trump was focused on its beginnings rather than its conclusion, complaining about Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein's appointment of Mueller in May 2017. Rosenstein appointed the special counsel after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
"I have a deputy, appoints a man to write a report on me, to make a determination on my presidency," Trump said in an interview with Fox Business Network. "People will not stand for it."
Trump bemoaned that the special counsel was "best friend" to Comey, who succeeded Mueller as FBI director. There's no evidence the two are close friends.
Mueller was appointed following the recusal two months earlier of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That action entangled Rosenstein, whose memo castigating Comey was cited by the White House as justification for his firing. In addition, Rosenstein didn't appoint Mueller to write a report — that's simply the ordinary course of action laid out in the special counsel regulations.
The president, speaking to reporters on the White House lawn before leaving for meetings at his Florida estate, again repeated his claim that "There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. Everybody knows it. It's all a big hoax. It's all a witch hunt."
Guessing when Mueller's report will be turned over to the Department of Justice has become a popular Washington parlor game, though the special counsel has not officially indicated that his probe is in its final stages. Justice Department regulations require only that Mueller give the attorney general a confidential report that explains the decisions to pursue or decline prosecutions. That could be as simple as a bullet point list or as fulsome as a report running hundreds of pages.
Attorney General William Barr is required only to say the investigation has concluded and describe or explain any times when he or Rosenstein decided an action Mueller proposed "was so inappropriate or unwarranted" that it should not be pursued. After Mueller turns in his report, Barr has said he will draft a second one for congressional and public consumption.
Trump and his allies have spent nearly two years trying to discredit Mueller. But the president has grown increasingly confident the report will produce what he has insisted all along: no clear evidence of a conspiracy between Russia and his 2016 campaign. And Trump and his advisers are considering how to weaponize those possible findings for the 2020 race, painting the probe as a failed coup while railing against investigations launched by House Democrats.
Even if Mueller's final report does not implicate the president in criminal conduct, the investigation was far from fruitless. His team brought charges against 34 people, including six Trump associates, and three companies. His prosecutors revealed a sweeping criminal effort by Russians to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and showed that people connected to the Trump campaign were eager to exploit emails stolen from Democrats.