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

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE on Wednesday called on Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSessions: DOJ concerned about suppression of free speech on college campuses Faith communities are mobilizing against Trump’s family separation policy Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe lands book deal 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 Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe 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 GardnerSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report Colorado governor sets up federal PAC before potential 2020 campaign Hillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law 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 CollinsGrassley: No reason to delay Kavanaugh hearing Dem senators back Kavanaugh accuser's call for FBI investigation CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on Ford: ‘Mr. President, refer to her by her name’ 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 ManafortEric Holder: Trump releasing docs on Russia probe is 'dangerous abuse of power' Time for sunshine on Trump-Russia investigation Legal expert says Manafort deal could help Trump in short term 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 ComeyEXCLUSIVE: Trump says exposing ‘corrupt’ FBI probe could be ‘crowning achievement’ of presidency Russia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community Dem lawmaker jabs Trump call for transparency by asking for his tax returns 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 Jay RosensteinDem lawmakers slam Trump’s declassification of Russia documents as ‘brazen abuse of power’ Time for sunshine on Trump-Russia investigation The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil 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.