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Trump made a revealing, off-the-cuff comment that could explain why he hasn't fired Mueller

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President Donald Trump told The New York Times in an interview published Thursday that the investigation into potential collusion between his campaign team and Moscow had strengthened his base and prompted some "great congressmen" to begin "pointing out what a witch hunt the whole thing is."

Trump told The Times that he did not intend to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the investigation.

But while Trump said he expected Mueller would treat him "fairly," his remark about how the investigation had galvanized his supporters is perhaps a better indicator of why Trump may have taken firing Mueller off the table, for now, as it suggests he is aware of, and confident in, his allies' ongoing campaign to undermine and discredit the special counsel.

"Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion," Trump told the newspaper.

He continued:

"There is no collusion. And even these committees that have been set up. If you look at what's going on — and in fact, what it's done is, it's really angered the base and made the base stronger. My base is stronger than it's ever been. Great congressmen, in particular, some of the congressmen have been unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole thing is. So, I think it's been proven that there is no collusion."

The most recent attacks on the FBI by Trump and his supporters began after news surfaced that the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General discovered text messages exchanged by two FBI employees, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, during the campaign that expressed disdain for Trump and other political leaders.

Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence agent, was among those overseeing the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email server last year. He and Page and were also members of Mueller's team, but Strzok was removed in late July after the texts were discovered, and Page left for unrelated reasons.

A senior Justice Department official and his wife, meanwhile, have come under fire for their reported ties to Fusion GPS — the opposition-research firm that funded the collection of memos known as "the dossier" outlining alleged Trump-Russia collusion. The official, Bruce Ohr, was recently reassigned.

There is no evidence so far that these revelations have affected the public's perception of Mueller or the Russia investigation. A CNN poll released earlier this week found that more Americans approved of how Mueller was handling the investigation than disapproved.

But the incidents have fueled GOP lawmakers' calls either for FBI Director Chris Wray to clean house or for Mueller to resign.

Republican Rep. Francis Rooney on Tuesday said he wanted to see the upper ranks of the FBI purged of politically motivated agents whom he believes were working for "the deep state."

Another Florida congressman, Rep. Matt Gaetz, has accused Mueller and his team of staging a "coup d'etat" against Trump. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio has called the FBI "corrupt" and claimed recently that the bureau was "putting together a plan" last year "to keep Donald Trump from becoming the next president of the United States."

Jordan said earlier this month that he'd been in touch with the White House about Mueller. Gaetz, the first lawmaker to openly demand Mueller's firing, discussed the special counsel's investigation with Trump aboard Air Force One earlier this month ahead of a rally in Florida.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, a House Judiciary Committee member who put forward a provision in August that would have severely limited the scope and funding of Mueller's investigation, was also on the flight with Gaetz and Trump.

GOP Rep. Andy Biggs recently slammed what he called Mueller's "unlimited reach" and "unvetted hires," accusing the special counsel of making "blatantly partisan hires that place the direction of his probe under a cloud of suspicion" and calling on him to "step aside."

Republican Sen. Rand Paul tweeted last week that it was "time to investigate high ranking Obama government officials who might have colluded to prevent the election of @realDonaldTrump! This could be WORSE than Watergate!"

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