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Trump Attacks Investigators After Reports Of Obstruction Of Justice Probe

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Trump administration planned for its new Cuba policy to get the focus today. That ended the moment President Trump began tweeting about the special counsel's investigation into Russian meddling in the election and reportedly into the president himself. NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The tweets started just before 8 in the morning, but the one that set off a storm came at 9:07. President Trump said, quote, "I am being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director - exclamation point - witch hunt."

This would seem to confirm numerous newspaper reports that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation had in fact expanded to include possible obstruction of justice by Trump. But a person close to Trump's outside legal team who asked not to be named said Trump was merely reacting to news reports and hadn't been notified by the special counsel that he is a subject of the investigation. It's not clear that he would be, though, at this early stage.

As for who the president is referring to, the most likely option is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel. In the interview Trump did with NBC's Lester Holt shortly after firing FBI Director James Comey, Trump described Rosenstein's involvement in the firing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.

LESTER HOLT: So there was...

TRUMP: He made a recommendation. He's highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him. The Republicans like him. He made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.

KEITH: In that same interview, Trump said that the Russia investigation had been on his mind when he decided to fire Comey. Now there's some question of whether President Trump wants to fire Mueller.

Earlier this week, a friend of Trump said the president was considering it. A spokeswoman said Trump did not intend to. And in reality, it isn't his choice. That falls to Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, who was asked this by Republican senator from Maine Susan Collins at a hearing on Tuesday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUSAN COLLINS: If President Trump ordered you to fire the special counsel, what would you do?

ROD ROSENSTEIN: Senator, I'm not going to follow any orders unless I believe those are lawful and appropriate orders. Under the regulation, special counsel Mueller may be fired only for good cause. And I am required to put that cause in writing. And so that's what I would do. I'd - if there were a good cause, I would consider it. If there were not good cause, it wouldn't matter to me what anybody says.

KEITH: And that might explain why Rosenstein is now apparently the target of Trump's ire. Last night, Rosenstein put out an unusual statement telling Americans to be skeptical about anonymous allegations and stories based on unnamed sources.

All the stories about Mueller investigating Trump for possible obstruction cited anonymous sources. A White House spokeswoman referred all questions to Trump's outside lawyer, who made no on-the-record statements. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.