WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump on Thursday denied a newspaper report that he had planned to fire US Special Counsel Robert Mueller late last year.
Mueller has been tasked with investigating allegations of Russian meddling in 2016 US presidential election. US intelligence agencies have concluded that such interference took place, but Moscow denies it.
Mueller is also investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, which Trump has denied.
Trump has repeatedly attacked the special counsel investigation, and on Wednesday he blamed it for Washington’s frosty relationship with Moscow.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that he had tried to fire Mueller in December.
On Thursday, Trump denied that report. “If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by the Failing New York Times, I would have fired him,” he said on Twitter.
A bipartisan group of senators put forward legislation on Wednesday to protect Mueller and his investigation, which the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider next week.
More than 300,000 people have pledged to attend “rapid response” protests across the US, should Trump fire Mueller.
The activist website MoveOn said it had more than 800 “emergency” rallies around the country prepared.
Activists would spring into action within hours, MoveOn said, marching in cities and towns in each of the 50 states. The mass protest would also be triggered if Trump moved to replace the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein — which could clear a path for Mueller to be fired — or if Trump pardoned key witnesses in the Russia investigation.
As Trump has stepped up his criticism of the special counsel in recent weeks, MoveOn said people had flooded to its website to sign up for rapid response rallies.
Since 17 March, when Trump publicly criticised Mueller for the first time, more than 100,000 have pledged to attend events. MoveOn launched the sign-up section of its website in August 2017, and is being supported by a slew of activist organisations including Indivisible and Women’s March.
“We’ve seen another explosion of interest in these events over the last few weeks, reflecting the heightened threat that Trump may actually move to end the investigations,” said David Sievers, campaign director at MoveOn.
When Trump mused on Monday — after an FBI team had raided the offices of his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen — that “many people” had told him he should fire Mueller, it sparked another surge of sign-ups. More than 20,000 people signed up in the two following days alone.
MoveOn set out how the emergency rallies would take place in a detailed plan on its website.
If Trump moved to fire Mueller before 2pm local time activists would spring into action at 5pm that same day. If the president dismissed Muller later than that protests would begin at midday the day after.
The president, in a rare show of discipline, had refrained from directly mentioning Mueller by name for months until his 17 March outburst.
“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” Trump tweeted. The next day he accused “the Mueller team” of having “13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans”.
Since then he has repeatedly attacked Mueller, and on Tuesday White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said Trump had been advised that he could fire Mueller and “certainly believes he has the power to do so”.