President Donald Trump has smarted all week over the stories about the special counsel probe zeroing in on him and his close associates, according to a White House official, spending hours in the White House obsessing over the coverage.
And Trump’s bombshell tweet on Friday morning – appearing to confirm that he’s now under investigation for obstruction of justice and attacking his deputy attorney general – is part of a broader decision by the president to “go on the attack,” the official said.
“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” Trump tweeted on Friday, apparently referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to overtake the sprawling Russia probe.
That he would confirm he was under investigation came out of nowhere, this official said. "I don’t think we have been formally told he’s under investigation," the official said. "He was commenting on Twitter on all the stories that are out there."
Trump has been told repeatedly not to post such missives on Twitter but has decided he is in for a political fight, according to one outside adviser briefed on the strategy. Advisers have told him to use his Twitter to boost his political message or attack Democrats instead of talking about the legal case. But Trump doesn’t trust others to share his message, this person said, because they don’t want to share it the way he does.
Trump on Friday morning boasted about the power of his Twitter feed. “The Fake News Media hates when I use what has turned out to be my very powerful Social Media – over 100 million people! I can go around them,” he wrote.
One White House official said Trump doesn’t think the tweets will have any legal ramifications against him. "I know of only one person in the White House who thinks the tweets are a great idea," the official said. "He sits in the Oval Office."
A barrage of damaging stories emerged this week, including a Washington Post report that said Mueller’s probe has expanded to also explore whether Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI director James Comey, who was overseeing the Russia probe, and allegedly pressuring intelligence officials to interfere in the probe. Another Post report on Thursday night alleged that Mueller is also looking at the business dealings of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser.
Trump has lashed out on Twitter repeatedly, calling the reports of obstruction of justice “phony” and railing against what he called “the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history.”
A White House spokesman referred a request for comment on Friday’s tweets to the president’s legal team. Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s personal attorney handling Russia probe matters, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The tweets are also seen by some in the president’s circle as the beginning of a case against the officials investigating him. White House officials had no case ready for the dismissal of Comey and received heavy criticism for the conflicting explanations about his departure.
Trump’s surrogates have launched a broad campaign to discredit Mueller, claiming he suffers from conflicts of interest and has been bringing on prosecutors who have supported Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and an ally of Trump, even floated the idea earlier this week that Trump was prepared to oust Mueller.
Rosenstein and Mueller are, for now, unlikely to be fired immediately. But Trump apparently wants to keep the option open. One adviser said the comments trashing Mueller and Rosenstein from Trump and others "should not be viewed as just a pure coincidence."
"President Trump has started the clock on the Rosenstein firing watch," said Evan Siegfried, a GOP strategist. "This is feeding the private discussions in the GOP about the president’s state of mind."