WASHINGTON — Amid reports that President Trump is considering firing the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigations, a senior Justice Department official said Tuesday that he – and not the president – is the only official empowered to dismiss the prosecutor and that he sees no reason to do so.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the No. 2 official at Justice, also promised that the special counsel, former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, would have the independence to pursue the investigation as he saw fit.

On Monday, Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend, said in an interview on PBS that he had just come from the White House and that the president was “considering, perhaps, terminating the special counsel.”

Firing Mueller after a month in the post would be an explosive political step and inevitably raise concerns that the president was trying to obstruct an investigation affecting the White House.

Rosenstein took over the investigation when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any dealings with the Russia probe on March 2 after his own dealings with Russian officials was disclosed.

After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9, Rosenstein appointed Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the FBI investigations into Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 election, and any signs of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.


Under Justice Department regulations designed to ensure a measure of independence for the special counsel, Rosenstein may only fire Mueller for “good cause.”

During a hearing on Tuesday before a joint House and Senate appropriations subcommittee, Rosenstein was asked whether he had seen any evidence of that.

“No, I have not,” he said. “You have my assurance that we are faithfully going to follow that regulation, and Director Mueller is going to have the independence he needs.”

Rosenstein said that, under the special counsel regulations, he is the only department official with the authority to get rid of Mueller.

Asked by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine what he would do if Trump ordered him to fire Mueller, Rosenstein said, “Senator, I’m not going to follow any orders unless I believe those are lawful and appropriate orders. Under the regulation, Special Counsel Mueller may be fired only for good cause, and I’m required to put that cause in writing. And so that’s what I would do. If there were good cause, I would consider it, if there were not good cause, it wouldn’t matter to me what anybody says.

Rosenstein also said Sessions is not involved in the Russia probe and has not been briefed on it since his recusal.

“He actually does not know what we’re investigating and I’m not going to talk about it publicly,” he said.

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