NEW YORK (AP) — Sally Yates, the former acting U.S. attorney general, said Friday that she is just as concerned President Donald Trump might fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as she is that he might move against Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading a Justice Department probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Yates warned that the deputy attorney general has tremendous ability to influence the scope of the Justice Department’s investigation, including whether to execute search warrants, bring charges and present articles of impeachment to Congress.
“The deputy attorney general can control a whole lot of this,” Yates said as she condemned the president’s behavior and policies during an appearance at a Women in the World conference in New York.
Trump has made no move to fire either Rosenstein or get rid of Mueller, who reports to Rosenstein. He has lashed out at both men on social media in recent days.
The president’s anger was prompted by the FBI raid on his longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who acknowledged paying $130,000 to porn actress Stormy Daniels to buy her silence about an affair she said she had with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied an affair.
Asked Friday if Trump planned to fire Rosenstein, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “I don’t have any announcements at this time. The president’s voiced some frustrations, but beyond that I don’t have anything to add.”
Yates noted that few Republican officials have spoken out against Trump’s increasingly hostile stance against those running the Russia investigation.
“Not speaking and not doing anything is a decision, and that makes you part of it,” Yates said.
At a subsequent panel discussion, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska offered a direct warning to Trump when asked about the possibility that the president might remove Rosenstein.
“Any action that would either throw a roadblock in or completely derail (Mueller’s investigation), that, I think, takes us to another level,” Murkowski said.
She added: “It is so imperative that this investigation be allowed to go forward.”
Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, also on the panel, warned that such a move would constitute obstruction of justice that would likely trigger a constitutional crisis.
A longtime Justice Department official, Yates knows the system and the key players well. Trump fired her last year she refused to defend his proposed travel ban.
On Friday, she also strongly encouraged Trump to agree to be interviewed by the special counsel. The president’s legal team has yet to say whether he will answer direct questions from Mueller.
Yates said Trump’s oath of office requires his full cooperation in the Russia investigation.
“It seems to me, when the questions are so important here — it’s about a foreign adversary attacking our democracy and whether he or members of his campaign were part of it — I don’t understand how he would have the moral authority to lead this country if he didn’t answer those questions,” Yates said.
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