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White House: Trump believes he has power to fire Mueller

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East 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 RosensteinFBI investigated media leak of McCabe comment about Flynn and Trump House Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein Sessions unveils task force to combat transnational criminal groups like MS-13 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 SchumerMcConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers Senate Dems race to save Menendez in deep-blue New Jersey 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.