WASHINGTON ― With talk circulating that President Donald Trump might try to fire the head of the investigation into ties between his 2016 campaign and Russia, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) offered his endorsement of special counsel Robert Mueller and recommended that Trump not interfere with the probe.
“In the best case, the president is to be vindicated by allowing this investigation to go on thoroughly and independently,” Ryan told reporters Tuesday. Dismissing the prospect of Mueller being fired as rumor, Ryan added that his “best advice” would be to let him do his job.
Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy told PBS that Trump was considering getting rid of Mueller, and other Trump confidants ― most prominently former House Speaker Newt Gingrich ― have been airing criticisms of the former FBI director and questioning his objectivity.
But Ryan said he trusted Mueller, who was named to his post by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, to conduct a fair investigation. “I know Bob Mueller, and I have confidence in Bob Mueller,” Ryan said.
Later Tuesday, Rosenstein told a Senate panel that he would not follow an edict from Trump to fire Mueller unless he believed the order was “lawful and appropriate.”
While Ryan did not say what he and other GOP lawmakers would do if Trump sought to fire Mueller, his words signaled that such a move would not be tolerated and may have been intended to influence the president.
The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, has said that if Trump were to get Mueller fired, Congress would re-establish the independent counsel unit and name Mueller to head it. “Don’t waste our time,” Schiff tweeted.
There’s had been little indication from Republicans that they would take Mueller’s dismissal so seriously ― until today. Although Ryan did not say such a Trump move would be unacceptable, his endorsement of Mueller was one of the few times the speaker has sent such a preemptive message to the administration since Trump became president.
Ryan has generally tolerated every action by the president, but today he suggested that even he may have a line ― albeit an amorphous and theoretical one that may not be firm.
Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) both took shots at the media for giving credence to the prospect of a Mueller firing. “You’re creating a rumor that’s not happening,” McCarthy told a reporter as he stood off to Ryan’s side during the speaker’s press conference.
Ryan agreed with McCarthy’s characterization, saying “This is like a rumor we heard last night.”
Mueller was appointed special counsel for the Russia investigation after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey early last month. Mueller headed the FBI from 2001-2013.
This article has been update to include a comment from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.