WASHINGTON — President Trump called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday to end the special counsel investigation, an extraordinary appeal to the nation’s top law enforcement official to end an inquiry directly into the president.
..This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018
The order immediately raised questions from some lawyers about whether it was an attempt to obstruct justice. The special counsel, appointed last year to oversee the government’s Russia investigation, is already looking into some of the president’s previous Twitter posts and public statements to determine whether they were intended to obstruct the inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and any ties to the Trump campaign.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers quickly moved to contain the fallout, saying it was not an order to a member of his cabinet, but merely an opinion. An hour and a half after the tweet was posted, Mr. Trump’s lawyers contacted a reporter for The New York Times. In a subsequent telephone conversation, one of his lawyers, Rudolph W. Giuliani, dismissed the obstruction of justice concerns, calling it a “bizarre and novel theory of obstruction by tweet,” adding that it was “idiotic.”
Presidents typically do not weigh in on active Justice Department investigations, but Mr. Trump has been outspoken about his anger and frustration with the Russia inquiry. Mr. Trump has also said that he never would have made Mr. Sessions his attorney general if he had known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from the inquiry.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
The president’s lawyers, Jay A. Sekulow and Mr. Giuliani, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Trump was not ordering the inquiry closed but simply expressing his opinion.
“It’s not a call to action,” Mr. Giuliani said, adding that it was a sentiment that Mr. Trump and his lawyers had previously expressed publicly and that it was a statement protected by the president’s constitutional right to free speech.
“He doesn’t feel that he has to intervene in the process, nor is he intervening,” Mr. Sekulow said.
The president wanted the legal process to play out, his lawyers said. “He’s expressing his opinion, but he’s not talking of his special powers he has” as president, Mr. Giuliani said.