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

President TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE on Wednesday called on Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Garland strikes down Trump-era immigration court rule, empowering judges to pause cases 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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel 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 GardnerEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms 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 CollinsSchumer urges GOP to ignore Trump: He's 'rooting for failure' Trump pressures McConnell, GOP to ditch bipartisan talks until they have majority Transit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal 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 ManafortLobbyist Tony Podesta returns to work for Huawei Former bank CEO convicted of bribery in scheme to land Trump admin job Trial begins for Chicago banker who exchanged loans with Manafort for Trump job 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 ComeyBiden sister has book deal, set to publish in April Mystery surrounds Justice's pledge on journalist records NYT publisher: DOJ phone records seizure a 'dangerous incursion' on press freedom 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 RosensteinWashington still needs more transparency House Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week 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.