U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Sunday that President Donald Trump would be best served by “never” talking about the Russia investigation amid reports that the president sought to unseat the special counsel last summer.
“I think the president would be best served by never discussing the investigation — ever,” Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Collins’ pointed advice for the president comes after The New York Times reported last week that Trump sought in June to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller weeks after he took over an investigation into whether Russians colluded with the Trump campaign to tilt the 2016 presidential election.
Trump reportedly backed off when White House Counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign, evoking for some observers memories of the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre, when President Richard Nixon ordered the firing of the Watergate special prosecutor, setting off a cascade of resignations of top White House officials, including the attorney general and deputy attorney general.
When asked about the report Friday at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump dismissed it as “fake news,” according to The Washington Post.
Collins said Sunday that the president can’t directly fire Mueller, but that authority rests solely with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel in May.
Rosenstein told a Senate panel in June that he would not comply with an order from the White House to fire Mueller unless he believed the order “lawful and appropriate.”
“He was adamant that he would never give in to any White House pressure to remove Mr. Mueller,” Collins told CNN.
Collins sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigation into Russian election interference.
But the White House also reportedly has had the deputy attorney general in its crosshairs as the Russia investigation drags on, CNN reported Friday. A source told CNN that Trump has talked about removing Rosenstein, making comments like “let’s fire him, let’s get rid of him.”
Questioned about this on “State of the Union,” Collins said it would a “terrible mistake” for Trump to fire the deputy attorney general.
“We’ve seen what happened back in the Nixon administration when President Nixon in the Saturday Night Massacre kept going down the line until he found someone who would fire the special counsel, and that didn’t end very well,” Collins said.
Last summer, Trump’s legal team reportedly had explored ways to hinder the special counsel’s investigation, including potential conflicts of interest, according to The Post. Among the conflicts raised at the time included an allegation that Mueller had a dispute over membership fees at Trump National Golf Club in Virginia before resigning as a member in 2011.
But in recent days Trump has put forward a more positive face regarding the investigation, telling reporters at the White House on Wednesday that he was “looking forward” to testifying under oath before the special counsel.
Collins downplayed the severity of the Times report Sunday, saying the president had “a bad idea” and his counsel explained “why it was a bad idea.”
“That was seven months ago, and the White House counsel is still on the job and Mr. Mueller is still aggressively investigating — that’s as it should be,” Collins said.
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Correction: An earlier version of this report misspelled White House Counsel Donald McGahn's name.