Lauren Gambino in Washington
Donald Trump’s personal lawyer said on Saturday he hoped the firing of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe would prompt Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the Russia investigation, to shut down the inquiry.
John Dowd spoke hours after Trump gloated that the firing of McCabe marked a “great day for democracy”. His glee provoked a savage response from former CIA director John Brennan, who called him a “disgraced demagogue” headed for “the dustbin of history”.
McCabe is a 21-year veteran of the FBI who became a lightning rod in a partisan battle over investigations into Russian election interference, potential links between Trump aides and Russia, and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
He stepped down in January but was fired on Friday night, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejected an appeal to allow him to retire on Sunday, his 50th birthday, when he would become eligible for a government pension.
On Saturday, Dowd said in a statement first provided to the Daily Beast that he “pray[ed]” Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller, “will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility [OPR] and attorney general Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt dossier”.
Dowd said he was speaking as the president’s attorney but later, reached by the Guardian, he said he was “speaking for myself not the president”.
He added that the investigation should be ended “on the merits in light of recent revelations”. A justice department spokeswoman declined to comment. The White House did not answer a request for comment.
Senator Mark Warner, vice-chair of the Senate intelligence committee, responded: “Every member of Congress, Republican and Democrat, needs to speak up in defense of the special counsel. Now.”
Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate leader, warned of “severe consequences” should Trump curtail or end Mueller’s work. Republicans have advised Trump not to fire Mueller, though they have not advanced legislation to protect him.
Brennan addressed the president earlier on Saturday, writing: “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history.
“You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America … America will triumph over you.”
He was responding to a tweet sent by Trump in the early hours which celebrated McCabe’s dismissal, an act one historian likened to the “Saturday night massacre” of 1973, when Richard Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor leading the Watergate investigation.
“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy,” Trump wrote. “Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”
Trump fired Comey as FBI director last May, an act which led to the appointment of Mueller, a former FBI director, as special counsel. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the investigation as a “witch-hunt” though his legal team has been cautious not to criticize Mueller publicly.
Mueller is said to be looking into whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice when he fired Comey. The president reportedly ordered Mueller fired last June, but backed down when the White House counsel threatened to resign.
Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia investigation after failing to reveal contacts with Russians, announced McCabe’s firing late on Friday.
The attorney general – an early supporter of Trump who became a target of the president’s ire after his recusal – said an OPR review found McCabe allegedly “made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor” during a review of the FBI and justice department’s investigation into the Clinton Foundation.
In a statement, McCabe lamented an “ongoing war on the FBI” and Mueller. He said he had answered questions truthfully and had attempted to correct the record where he believed he had been misunderstood. He had been fired, he said, because of the “role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey”.
Speaking to Politico, McCabe said those actions included pushing for a special counsel and briefing a congressional “gang of eight” on his efforts.
“I literally walked into the building every day expecting that I would be removed from my position before the end of the day,” he said. “And if that happened, I didn’t want anyone to be able to just walk away from the work that we had done on the Russia investigation.”
Multiple outlets reported on Saturday that McCabe had kept memos detailing his conversations with Trump.
It was revealed this week that Mueller has subpoenaed corporate records from the Trump Organization, including those related to Russia. Trump has said investigating his family finances would be a “red line” if it extended beyond any relationship with Russia.
On Saturday, Trump issued a pair of tweets, attacking the “fake news” media.
“As the House Intelligence Committee has concluded,” the president wrote, referring to a Republican-authored report, “there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. As many are now finding out, however, there was tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State. #DrainTheSwamp.”
Comey, who will publish a book next month, also tweeted.
“Mr President,” he wrote, “the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.”