Paul Ryan says confident Trump won't fire Russia investigators

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WASHINGTON, April 11 (Reuters) - U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday he has been assured by the White House that President Donald Trump does not intend to fire the investigators overseeing a federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

"I have no reason to believe that that's going to happen," Ryan said at a news conference. "I have assurances that it's not because I've been talking to people in the White House about it."

Trump's simmering anger at Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose investigation includes possible collusion with Russia by Trump's presidential campaign, erupted again this week after an FBI raid on Monday targeted the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

Lawmakers, including senior members of Trump's own Republican Party, have expressed concern after the president suggested he might remove the special counsel when news of the FBI searches in New York emerged. The searches followed a referral by Mueller.

 

Reports have circulated for months that Trump is also considering firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein took over responsibility for the Russia probe after Sessions, who was a Trump adviser during the 2016 campaign, recused himself.

"My thoughts haven't changed," Ryan told reporters at the news conference, where he announced his retirement. "I think they (Rosenstein and Mueller) should be allowed to do their jobs. We have a rule of law in this country and that's a principle we all uphold."

Trump did not answer reporters' shouted questions about the Russia probe during a bill signing on Wednesday. Earlier, he kept up his assault on Mueller in a Twitter message, blaming what he called the "bad blood" between Russia and the United States on the special counsel investigation.

Referring to removing Mueller, Republican Senator Bob Corker said on Tuesday it would be a "massive mistake for the president to do that," adding he had told the president as much. "I think there would be a significant revolt in the Senate," he told Reuters.

Republican Senator Charles Grassley said earlier it would be "suicide" for Trump to fire Mueller.

 

PROTECTING SPECIAL COUNSEL

On Wednesday, four senators said they would merge two different proposals to protect the office of the special counsel. The original bills were introduced last summer.

The bill's chances in the Republican-controlled Senate were unclear. The Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said this week Mueller should be allowed to continue his work but such legislation was not needed. McConnell's spokesman declined to comment on Wednesday.

Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was considering putting the bill up for a vote in the panel, Politico reported.

The legislation would add the weight of law to current Justice Department regulations that govern the office of special counsel.

It would allow the special counsel to be fired only "for good cause" by a senior Justice Department official, with a reason given in writing; provide recourse if the special counsel was fired without good cause; and preserve the staffing and materials of a pending investigation.

Russia has denied U.S. intelligence agencies' findings that it meddled in the 2016 campaign to try to tilt the vote in Trump's favor. Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign and has long viewed the Mueller probe as a witch hunt.

(Reporting by Makini Brice Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Frances Kerry)

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