Trump calls on Sessions to end Russia probe ‘right now’

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE on Wednesday called on Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSarah Sanders to leave White House Sarah Sanders to leave White House Barr compares his return to DOJ to D-Day invasion MORE to stop the Russia investigation, a significant escalation of his attacks against the long-running probe that has dogged his presidency.

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further," Trump tweeted.

The president also accused special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE of being "totally conflicted," adding that "his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA."

Sessions has long been the target of Trump's ire over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, but the president has seldom suggested publicly that his attorney general should halt the probe.

Several Senate Republicans downplayed Trump's tweet, saying it is not Sessions’s decision to end the probe because of his recusal.

"The investigation will continue," said Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDemocrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control access face major obstacles McConnell defends Trump amid backlash: 'He gets picked at every day' MORE (R-Colo.)

But others expressed alarm that the president would issue such a stark ultimatum to the Justice Department, which has traditionally strived to carry out criminal investigations free from political interference. 

"I think it's highly inappropriate and intemperate," said Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates MORE (R-Maine), who exited an elevator to answer reporters' questions about the tweet. 

"It would be far better if the president just refrained from commenting and Mr. Mueller proceeds with his investigation, which after all has already resulted in more than 30 indictments ... and has led to a trial that is ongoing even as we speak," she added. 

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was not issuing a formal directive to Sessions. 

"It's not an order. It's the president's opinion," Sanders told reporters during a press briefing. 

Sanders called the special counsel's probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 "ridiculous" and said the president "wants to see it come to an end."

"The president is not obstructing. He is fighting back,” she added.

Trump's latest barb comes one day after his former campaign chairman, Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortNew York activists go on hunger strike to advocate for ending solitary confinement New York activists go on hunger strike to advocate for ending solitary confinement House panel subpoenas Flynn, Gates MORE, went on trial for alleged tax, financial and bank fraud crimes, the biggest test yet for the Mueller probe.

The president also sought to distance himself from Manafort early Wednesday, saying in another tweet that Manafort only "worked for me for a very short time" and suggested federal authorities should have informed him his campaign chief was under investigation during the 2016 presidential race.

"Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders. He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion — a Hoax!"

Trump later accused federal officials of treating Manafort worse than Mafia boss Al Capone, who served 11 years in prison after being convicted of tax evasion. 

Mueller, a Republican, has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 individuals, including four former Trump aides, in the probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has repeatedly denied that his campaign was involved in the effort and has also wavered on whether Russia interfered in the election, as U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded.

For months, the president has kept up a sustained attack on the Mueller investigation in an attempt to undermine it in the eyes of the public.

Multiple media reports have said Trump privately pressured Sessions several times to reverse his decision to recuse himself. Those comments, plus his tweets attacking Sessions and former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyFive memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House Five memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House Under Trump, our democracy is for sale MORE, are reportedly under investigation as Mueller looks into whether Trump has obstructed justice.

Sessions, the former Alabama senator who served as a top Trump campaign adviser, recused himself in March 2017 from the Russia probe after it was revealed he failed to disclose a conversation he had with Russia's U.S. ambassador during the 2016 race.

That decision left Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinTrump: I didn't fire Mueller since firings 'didn't work out too well' for Nixon Trump: I didn't fire Mueller since firings 'didn't work out too well' for Nixon GOP group urges Republicans to speak out on obstruction claims against Trump in new ad MORE to oversee the investigation. Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel in May 2017, after Trump fired Comey as FBI director.

Updated at 1:42 p.m.