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At the White House, Trump Takes Selfies and Seethes Over Mueller

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© Doug Mills/The New York Times The raids on Monday on President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer have sent the president to new heights of outrage about the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and MAGGIE HABERMAN, The New York Times
WASHINGTON

Outside the White House, President Trump grinned for selfies with Alabama’s Crimson Tide, telling the college football champions that they had beaten their rivals so brutally, “you flat-out made them quit” — a feat he said he knew something about himself.

Inside the White House, Mr. Trump — furious after the F.B.I. raided his longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen — spent much of the day brooding and fearful and near what two people close to the West Wing described as a “meltdown.”

Mr. Trump’s public and private wrath about the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election are nothing new. But the raids on Monday on Mr. Cohen’s Rockefeller Center office and Park Avenue hotel room have sent the president to new heights of outrage, setting the White House on edge as it faces a national security crisis in Syria and more internal staff churn.

On Tuesday, top White House aides described themselves as deeply anxious over the prospect that the president might use the treatment of his lawyer as a pretext to fire Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel.

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But Mr. Mueller still had a job by the end of the day as Mr. Trump sought solace in allies like Alan Dershowitz, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and frequent Fox News commentator. Mr. Dershowitz met with Mr. Trump at the White House on Tuesday and then stayed for dinner.

“This is a very dangerous day today for lawyer-client relations,” Mr. Dershowitz said on Fox on Monday night in an interview with Sean Hannity, one of Mr. Trump’s favorite hosts. “Shoe on the other foot, if this were Hillary Clinton being investigated and they went into her lawyer’s office, the A.C.L.U. would be on every television station in America, jumping up and down.”

Mr. Trump took up the theme on Twitter on Tuesday morning, posting that “attorney-client privilege is dead!”

Mr. Dershowitz, who has argued that Mr. Trump should not agree to be interviewed by Mr. Mueller, said Mr. Cohen’s treatment had vindicated that point of view.

“This sends a powerful message that cooperation is not going to be rewarded by Mueller,” Mr. Dershowitz said on Fox. “The result may very well be far less cooperation” with the special counsel.

Elsewhere in the White House, as the president considered options on Syria and absorbed cable news chyrons about Mr. Cohen, staff members at the National Security Council were rattled by the ouster of the homeland security adviser, Thomas P. Bossert. Two White House officials said the move came at the urging of the new national security adviser, John R. Bolton, whom one of the officials described as serving as the president’s shiny new object.

Mr. Trump’s mood had begun to sour even before the raids on his lawyer. People close to the White House said that over the weekend, the president engaged in few activities other than dinner at the Trump International Hotel. He tuned into Fox News, they said, watched reports about the so-called deep state looking to sink his presidency and became unglued.

Mr. Trump angrily told his advisers that people were trying to undermine him and that he wanted to get rid of three top Justice Department officials — Jeff Sessions, the attorney general; Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mr. Mueller; and Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director — according to two people familiar with what took place.

He eventually calmed down and the anger abated. But it was stoked anew on Monday, after the F.B.I. raids on Mr. Cohen. Mr. Rosenstein in particular was a source of Mr. Trump’s anger on Monday, and some aides believed the president was seriously considering firing him, to a degree he has not in the past.

Mr. Trump’s foul mood continued into Tuesday as he watched more coverage of Mr. Cohen’s problems. Mr. Trump told allies and advisers that Mr. Mueller had gone too far and that his actions would backfire, according to a person with knowledge of the president’s thinking.

The president indicated to some advisers that he had been proved right that Mr. Mueller was out to get him, after nearly a year of hearing from some of his lawyers that he should cooperate with the investigation and turn over everything that the special counsel requested. His participation in an interview with Mr. Mueller, which the special counsel has sought, seemed less likely, three people close to the president said.

Mr. Trump has long felt as if he has been unfairly hit by the Mueller investigation, and he has wanted to hit back. But there were few people on cable TV defending the president on Tuesday.

White House advisers were particularly alarmed by the president’s tirade in front of reporters on Monday, when he called the raids on Mr. Cohen “an attack on our country” in far angrier terms than he has ever referred to the Russian assault on the American election.

There were few people still at the White House able to restrain Mr. Trump from acting on his impulses after the departure of crucial staff members who once were able to join forces to do so, including Hope Hicks, his former communications director; Rob Porter, his former staff secretary; Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel; and, in 2017, the chief of staff Reince Priebus and the chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

John F. Kelly, the current chief of staff whose influence over the president has waned for months, appeared beaten down and less hands-on, according to two White House officials. Mr. Kelly has told Mr. Trump it is frustrating for staff members that the president deems most news media stories fake news but believes the ones accusing various advisers of leaking, according to people familiar with the discussions.

It is not clear whether Mr. Trump can fire Mr. Mueller himself. Many legal experts believe the president would have to direct Mr. Rosenstein to do so, since Mr. Sessions has recused himself from the case and Mr. Rosenstein technically oversees Mr. Mueller.

Mr. Rosenstein has told Congress that he would dismiss Mr. Mueller only for cause, and people close to Mr. Rosenstein have indicated he would resign if the president ordered him to fire Mr. Mueller. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced to protect Mr. Mueller, with senators urging the president to let it go forward “without impediment.”

Republican leadership has dismissed such legislation as unnecessary. But the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, warned Mr. Trump on Tuesday to not fire Mr. Mueller, saying in an interview on Fox Business Network it would be “suicide” to continue to talk about firing him.

On Tuesday on the South Lawn, Mr. Trump appeared to leave such concerns behind during the event with the Crimson Tide, winners of the N.C.A.A. championship. Mr. Sessions, a former Alabama senator, was on hand to salute his home-state players, but the president did not acknowledge him.

Instead, he praised the team’s pugnacious spirit, saying that they “fought back as they did all season long.”

“They kept fighting and fighting,” the president said.

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Politics - U.S. Daily News: At the White House, Trump Takes Selfies and Seethes Over Mueller
At the White House, Trump Takes Selfies and Seethes Over Mueller
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