Trump publicly acknowledges Russia probe includes him

Mueller expands special counsel office hires 13 lawyers

Alex Wong Getty Images Robert Mueller

President Donald Trump acknowledged for the first time Friday that he is under federal investigation as part of the expanding probe into Russia's election meddling.

If Trump ordered Brand to fire Mueller and she refused, the responsibility to oversee the special counsel would fall to Dana Boente, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, according to a presidential executive order.

Rosenstein, in office for less than two months, is the top Justice official overseeing the probe because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself.

The president's legal team has attempted to throw Mr. Mueller's appointment as special counsel into question; arguing that Mr. Mueller's relationship with Mr. Comey compromises the former's ability to conduct a fair and unbiased investigation. The inquiries have yet to show evidence of collusion. The attorney general was at a White House meeting when the notification came from Rosenstein, prompting the enraged President to scold the attorney general for the turn of events.

What is clear is that he could order the Justice Department to ax Mueller, which may result in Rosenstein's departure and would certainly intensify the uproar over the investigation.

Mr Mueller was appointed as special counsel to investigate Moscow's involvement in the presidential election previous year and possible collusion by Trump campaign associates with the Russians, but there has been no indication that Mr Mueller told the president to fire Mr Comey. Or Rosenstein might seek to forestall such a confrontation by recusing himself from further involvement in the Mueller-led probe, on the grounds that his own actions in firing Comey were now a subject of the investigation.

"You begin to wonder if is going to be a domino effect here where it is just one person after another", said Andrew Graham, a longtime Maryland defense lawyer who worked with Rosenstein.

Rosenstein will have to recuse himself from any supervisory role in the Mueller investigation due to this possible conflict of interest. He speculates that her attitude may be "more informed by the structure of presidential authority and less by unwritten norms of prosecutorial independence". It was not clear whether these records would be sought by Mueller, or the various Senate and House committees investigating alleged Russian interference in the United States election, or all of these. 'The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations'.

If Rosenstein recuses himself, Brand, a Trump appointee, would become the top Justice official overseeing Mueller's work.

Yet Trump's angry tweets on Friday underscored the near-impossible challenge his advisers and legal team have in trying to get him to avoid weighing in on an active probe.

The New York Times reported that former members of Trump's transition team were given "preservation orders" Thursday to safeguard documents, including electronic records like email, related to the ongoing Russian Federation investigation.

Kushner's attorney said such a review would be "standard practice". An official of Trump's transition confirmed the lawyer's internal order, which was sent Thursday. Pence headed the Trump transition until Inauguration Day. He has already been subpoenaed by the House of Representatives intelligence committee.

Information for this article was contributed by Michael D. Shear, Charlie Savage, Maggie Haberman, Rebecca R. Ruiz, Adam Goldman, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Matthew Rosenberg, Matt Apuzzo and Nick Confessore of The New York Times; by Julie Pace, Jonathan Lemire, Steve Braun, Sadie Gurman, Eric Tucker, Mary Clare Jalonick and Vivian Salama of The Associated Press; and by Sari Horwitz and Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post.

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