White House: Trump believes he has power to fire Mueller

President TrumpDonald John TrumpConservatives express concern over House GOP immigration bill Poll: McSally holds 14-point lead in Arizona GOP Senate primary Trump defends Nielsen amid criticism over family separations MORE believes he has the power to fire Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE as special counsel leading the Russia probe, the White House said Tuesday.

“He certainly believes that he has the power to do so,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, adding that Trump is not acting now to fire him. 

Sanders said Trump believes Mueller has “gone too far” after FBI agents executed a raid on the office of Trump's personal attorney in part based on a referral from the special counsel’s office. 

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The White House’s stance on firing Mueller has been rejected by many legal experts who say Trump does not have the power to fire the special counsel directly. 

Under Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations, that authority falls to the department official in charge of the investigation — in this case, Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinRepublicans tear into IG finding on Clinton probe US law is not on the side of Mueller's appointment as special counsel Republican wants to know why Rosenstein delayed release of FBI agent texts MORE.
 
Democrats in Congress were dismayed by Sanders’s comments.
 
“The DOJ regulations could not be more clear; the president does not have the authority to remove Special Counsel Mueller,” said Matt House, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Trump officials move to expand non-ObamaCare health plans | 'Zero tolerance' policy stirs fears in health community | New ObamaCare repeal plan Selling government assets would be a responsible move in infrastructure deal Ignore the naysayers trying to disrupt US diplomacy with North Korea MORE (D-N.Y.) “Because of the Attorney General’s recusal, only Deputy AG Rosenstein could remove the special counsel, and it would have to be for good cause.”
 
Sanders said, however, the White House has explored whether Trump could fire Mueller without Rosenstein’s signoff by seeking advice from “individuals in the legal community” and Justice Department officials.
 
“We’ve been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision,” the spokeswoman said.

Sanders’s statement marks a shift in tone for the White House, which has said repeatedly for months that Trump has not discussed firing Mueller.

“There are no conversations or discussions about removing Mr. Mueller,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said last month.  

Mueller returned to the center of Trump's crosshairs on Monday after the FBI raided the office of Michael Cohen, the president's longtime lawyer and fixer.

Cohen's attorney said the raid by the U.S. Attorney's office with the Southern District of New York came "in part" by a referral from Mueller in the course of his investigation into Russia's election interference efforts and whether the Trump campaign cooperated with them.

Trump lambasted the search as a "real disgrace" as he spoke to reporters Monday night, hours after the news of the FBI raid surfaced.

"It’s an attack on our country in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for," Trump said.

He went on to declare that the search yielded "nothing." 

Federal prosecutors have not publicly announced their findings but multiple news reports said the investigators were looking for documents related to a payment Cohen made to an adult-film actress that says she had an affair with Trump, as well as about Cohen's ownership of taxi medallions.

Trump raised the prospect of firing Mueller, saying ”many people have said" that he should do it. But he gave little indication about whether he plans to follow through. 

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

When Sanders was asked by reporters on Tuesday whether Trump has spoken to people about firing Mueller, Sanders responded that she hasn't spoken with the president about that topic.

"I can't speak beyond that," she said.

– Ben Kamisar contributed

Updated: 4:35 p.m.