Leading Democrats in the U.S. Congress have warned President Donald Trump against firing the Justice Department special counsel who is investigating alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election.
After a close Trump associate earlier this week said Trump was "considering" firing Robert Mueller, who was appointed special counsel last month, the White House said Trump had no intention to do so though Trump has the "right" to do so.
Still, since Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the Russia probe little more than a month ago, the White House comments have stirred concern among members of Congress that Mueller might get the same treatment if the investigation goes against the president.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is also investigating the ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, said on June 16 she was "increasingly concerned" Trump would try to fire not only Mueller, but also the man who appointed him, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
"The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn't apply to him, and that anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired," Feinstein said.
"He's in for a rude awakening" if he thinks he can shut down the investigation that way, she added. "Even his staunchest supporters will balk at such a blatant effort to subvert the law."
Although the president is unlikely to be indicted if Mueller's investigation finds any criminal wrongdoing, Mueller's findings could lead to calls for impeachment in Congress, where a few Democrats are already pushing for impeachment.
Democrats note that after the Justice Department appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the Watergate break-in during the in the 1970s, then-President Richard Nixon ordered the department to fire the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, prompting his attorney general and deputy attorney general both to resign in what became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre."
Nixon later resigned rather than face impeachment.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee on June 16 called on Congress to "unite to stop" Trump if he tried to fire Rosenstein or Mueller.
Trump "believes that he has the power to fire anyone in government he chooses and for any reason," said Representative Adam Schiff, whose committee is also investigating Russia-Trump ties.
Trump has fueled the concern in Congress by repeatedly calling the congressional and executive investigations into his campaign's ties with Russia a "witch-hunt."
"You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history -- led by some very bad and conflicted people!" Trump tweeted on June 16.
This week, Trump also attacked what he called a "phony story" in The Washington Post that said Mueller's investigation had been expanded to include an inquiry into whether Trump's firing of Comey amounted to an illegal attempt to obstruct justice.
The tweets reflect Trump's increasing anger over the investigations, which Trump believes are biased against him and are aimed at forcing him out of the presidency, the Associated Press reported on June 16, citing anonymous White House aides.
Feinstein said an angry Trump had "embarked on an effort to undermine anyone with the ability to bring any misdeeds to light," and the Senate shouldn't let that happen.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters