(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump’s former political strategist advised him in a phone call on Monday to be more aggressive about slowing down special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians, according to three sources close to Bannon.
Bannon has been advocating for “a much more aggressive legal approach short of firing Mueller,” a source close to Bannon told ABC News on Monday.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said at Tuesday’s press briefing that the president does not support defunding of the special counsel. She also added that he’s happy with his legal team.
“I’m not sure what we would push back against since they’ve just come up with ways and shown more and more that there’s no connection between the Trump campaign and collusion with Russia,” Sanders said.
ABC News reached out to Bannon, who declined to comment.
The Breitbart founder and firebrand conservative also previously suggested that Trump should consider replacing his legal team, sources told ABC News.
Bannon has encouraged the president to demand that the Justice Department require more accountability for the resources spent on the investigation, the sources told ABC News on Monday.
Bannon has been an advisor for Trump since he joined the campaign in August 2016. Even though he was forced to resign from the administration in August 2017, he has been a frequent advisor to Trump, whom he often speaks to by phone.
A controversial figure in the White House, Bannon has been an advocate for the travel ban, for example.
He has openly disagreed with the president’s decision to fire former FBI director James Comey, calling it the “biggest political mistake in modern history” in a recent interview.
Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017 to oversee the investigation into whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Two people were indicted on Monday — former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former campaign official Rick Gates. Former campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos has been charged with making false statements to the FBI.
Jay Sekulow, a member of President Trump’s personal legal team, told George Stephanopoulos on “This Week,” on Sunday: “The president has authority to take action.” Trump has taken to Twitter to openly question the validity of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, repeatedly calling it a “witch hunt.” Trump reportedly asked for legal advice about the possibility of firing Mueller.
However, Sekulow pushed back against this possibility on “Good Morning America” on Tuesday, telling Stephanopoulos, “There is no conversation regarding firing Robert Mueller. And there’s no basis to fire Robert Mueller on anything that we’ve seen.”
“You could only terminate a special counsel for cause, and we just don’t see any basis for cause,” Sekulow added.
Shortly after Mueller was first appointed, Trump’s allies outside of the White House and in the press launched a campaign against Mueller, questioning whether he has a partisan bias.
Conservative pundit Ann Coulter called on Trump to fire Mueller and conservative writer Byron York suggested that it would be impossible for Mueller to be fair because of his friendship with Comey. Trump ally and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted: “Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair.”
Bannon has encouraged this campaign against Mueller to continue, according to sources close to Bannon, but has suggested that they use legislation, slow down document production and rally conservatives in the House and Senate to get behind slowing down the investigation.
Asked by reporters on Tuesday whether he could be confident that the White House won’t pressure Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire special counsel Bob Mueller, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr said, “I can’t be confident on anything.”
Burr also reiterated what he said in a press conference with the committee’s vice chairman, Mark Warner, two weeks ago: they “have not come to a conclusion” about any Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.
“It continues to be something that we look at. It’s the mission of the investigation, and the vice chairman and I continue to chart a course to answer all the questions,” he said.
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