President Donald Trump has no intention of firing the special counsel investigating charges of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, even though he questioned the official's impartiality in an interview, the White House said on Friday.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told a news briefing that while Trump "retains the authority" to dismiss special counsel Robert Mueller, "he has no intention of doing that."
Trump voiced concern in a TV interview on Fox News earlier on Friday about what he said was the close relationship between former FBI Director James Comey and Mueller, who was named to take over the Russia investigation after Trump fired Comey.
"He's very, very good friends with Comey, which is bothersome," Trump told Fox News. "We're going to have to see. I mean, we're going to have to see in terms - look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey."
Lawmakers investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election have raised questions about whether Comey's May 9 firing was an attempt by Trump to stop the Russia probe.
While White House officials have said the firing was due to concerns about Comey's actions at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Trump told an interviewer the Russia investigation was one of his concerns in taking the action.
But the president insists his campaign did not collude with Russia and that his firing of Comey did not obstruct justice.
"There's been no collusion, no obstruction and virtually everybody agrees to that," Trump told Fox, adding that Mueller "is an honorable man and hopefully he'll come up with an honorable solution."
Russia denies it meddled in the U.S. presidential election.
Mueller will hold talks this week with senior Senate Judiciary Committee members, with the committee's Republican chairman, Charles Grassley, and its top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein.
They will be joined by Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, the chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, they added. The subcommittee is examining what U.S. intelligence agencies say was a Russian campaign of influence was intended to boost Donald Trump's chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.
The discussions will focus on ensuring that the subcommittee's investigation is not interfering with Mueller's probe, one source said.
Spokesmen for the committee and for Mueller declined to comment.
Mueller also was expected to meet sometime during the week with top members of the House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee for a similar discussion.
A spokesman and a spokeswoman for the panel also declined to discuss the matter.
The special counsel met last week with the Republican chairman and the top Democrat overseeing the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation of what U.S. intelligence agencies say.