White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Wednesday brushed back criticism of President Trump's controversial tweet urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Russia probe, telling reporters he was merely voicing his "opinion."
After Democrats claimed the tweet amounted to obstruction of justice, Sanders said the president was not actually giving an order to end the probe.
“It’s not an order, it’s the president’s opinion,” Sanders said. “It is ridiculous all the dishonesty that’s gone on, and the president has watched this process play out, but also wants to see this come to an end.”
Sanders maintained, though, that the White House wants the investigation to “be completed,” and said this should happen “sooner rather than later.”
Also on Wednesday, counsel to the president, Jay Sekulow, told Fox News that the president’s tweet was not an order.
“The President did not issue an order or directive to the Department of Justice,” Sekulow said in a statement to Fox News.
The defense of the president’s comments come after he posted a series of tweets blasting the Russia investigation.
“This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further,” Trump tweeted. “Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to the USA!”
The tweet renewed Democratic complaints that Trump is wrongly challenging the independence of the special counsel. Trump has repeatedly blasted the probe as a “witch hunt,” but the call for Sessions to intervene represents another escalation.
Sessions, however, already recused himself last year – handing off oversight to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. So he is unlikely to act.
A Justice Department spokesperson had no comment on the tweet when reached by Fox News.
But Democrats on Wednesday blasted the president’s statement as an example of obstruction of justice.
Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff, D-Calif., tweeted:
“The President of the United States just called on his Attorney General to put an end to an investigation in which the President, his family and campaign may be implicated. This is an attempt to obstruct justice hiding in plain sight. America must never accept it.”
But Sanders maintained that the president’s tweets were not obstruction.
“He is fighting back,” Sanders said. “He is stating his opinion and stating it clearly and certainly, expressing the frustration we’ve seen with the level of corruption from people like James Comey, Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe. There is no reason he shouldn’t be able to voice that opinion.”
The president’s tweets also came on the second day of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s trial—the first out of Mueller’s probe.
“Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders. He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion - a Hoax!” he tweeted.
Fox News' Judson Berger, Serafin Gomez, and John Roberts contributed to this report.