President Donald Trump has refused to rule out firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Asked in the Oval Office whether he would axe the Justice Department official, Mr Trump said with a scowl to reporters: “You figure that one out.”
The President’s comment came after he approved the release of a memo alleging surveillance abuses by FBI officials investigating potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The controversial document was crafted by the staff of Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Hours after Mr Trump spoke, a White House spokesman said there have been no discussions or considerations about firing Mr Rosenstein.
Democrats have called the four-page Nunes memo a “shameful effort to discredit” the FBI, the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“The premise of the Nunes memo is that the FBI and DOJ corruptly sought a [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant on a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, and deliberately misled the court as part of a systematic abuse of the FISA process,” the Democrats said in a statement.
“None of this is true,” they added. “The FBI had good reason to be concerned about Carter Page and would have been derelict in its responsibility to protect the country had it not sought a FISA warrant.”
But Mr Trump has suggested the memo shows political bias at the FBI that tainted the investigation into his campaign. The President has repeatedly said there was no collusion between his campaign advisers and the Russian government.
“A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that,” Mr Trump told reporters at the White House.
The memo states that Mr Rosenstein signed off on at least one FISA application to surveil Mr Page.
The FBI and its director, Christopher Wray, raised issues over the memo, with the bureau issuing a rare public statement on Wednesday declaring it had “grave concerns” about the accuracy of the classified document.
Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from all matters related to the Russia investigation, Mr Rosenstein has been overseeing the Russia probe for the Justice Department.
Last May, the Deputy Attorney General appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to head the federal investigation after Mr Trump made the controversial move to fire FBI Director James Comey, who had been running the bureau’s inquiry.
Democrats from the House and Senate sent a letter to Mr Trump on Friday warning him against using the Nunes memo as a “pretext” to fire Mr Rosenstein or Mr Mueller.
“Firing Rod Rosenstein, DOJ (Department of Justice) leadership, or Bob Mueller could result in a constitutional crisis of the kind not seen since the Saturday night massacre,” the Democrats wrote, referring to President Richard Nixon’s firing of the Watergate scandal special prosecutor in the 1970s.
There has already been speculation for months over whether Mr Trump would fire Mr Mueller.
Also on Friday, Mr Sessions went off-script during remarks about human trafficking to praise his deputy. He declared that Mr Rosenstein - along with Rachel Brand, the current No 3 at the Justice Department – “both represent the kind of quality and leadership that we want in the department.”
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