Sen. Susan Collins is warning President Trump not to interfere in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia and reproached the president for speaking publicly about the probe.

Mueller “has to be able to do his investigation without interference from anyone,” Maine’s Republican senator told reporters Friday in Scarborough, where she announced a $20 million federal grant to the Maine Medical Center Research Institute. “What the president should do is not say another word and let it go forward.”

Collins and Maine colleague Angus King both serve on the Senate panel that also is investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

The president appeared to threaten Mueller and his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a free-ranging interview with The New York Times published Thursday, raising concerns that he might attempt to fire both men to stop Mueller’s probe. The Justice Department appointed Mueller to lead the investigation of ties and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia after the president fired the man who had been leading the probe, FBI Director James Comey. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein made the appointment because Sessions had recused himself from the Russia investigation after failing to disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Trump said that if Mueller looked into his and his family’s finances unrelated to Russia it would be “a violation” that crossed a red line, and wouldn’t rule out firing him if he did so, saying “I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.” The president also said he wished he’d never appointed Sessions, saying he never would have selected Sessions if he had known the former senator from Alabama was going to recuse himself.

In a separate interview Friday with the Press Herald, Collins cautioned Trump not to attempt to fire Mueller. “I think it would be an extraordinarily serious mistake,” she said.

KING, PINGREE CONDEMN POTENTIAL INTERFERENCE

King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said reports that Trump was seeking to limit or stop Mueller’s investigation were “deeply troubling” and that it was in the national interest for the probe to continue without interference.

“It seems to me that the president – not to mention the country – would be best served by allowing this investigation to move forward unencumbered and to cooperate fully,” King said in a written statement. “If the president has nothing to hide, as he repeatedly insists, he should want a thorough investigation which will reassure the American people and lift the cloud now hanging over his administration.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, also called for Mueller’s investigation to proceed without interference.

“I’m absolutely outraged to hear that the president has been suggesting that (Mueller) should be stopped from looking into relevant financial information or even be fired,” Pingree said via email. “If President Trump forced the firing of Robert Mueller because his investigation hit too close to home, it would tip the scales in Congress dramatically.”

In that situation, Pingree said, she would do “the same thing I’m doing right now – pushing Congress to launch an independent investigation outside the influence of the president, so we can get the information we need to make the best decision for the country.”

Pingree has for months called for the appointment of an independent investigator to look into the matter who cannot be fired by the president.

POLIQUIN DECLINES TO TAKE STANCE

Maine’s congressional delegation was not unanimous in their concern. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the Republican representing Maine’s 2nd District, declined to comment directly on Trump’s implied threats against the probe, saying through a spokesman only that he “will thoroughly review any findings and conclusions” generated by Mueller’s team or the Senate and House investigations into the Russia issue.

The Washington Post reported Friday that Trump was seeking ways to curtail Mueller’s probe, including an effort to compile alleged conflicts of interest against him. The president also has reportedly asked advisers about his powers to pardon his aides, family members, and even himself.

Pingree said it was of utmost importance that the investigation continue. “There are very serious questions being raised every day about this administration involvement’s with Russia and it’s critical for the health of our democracy that we know the truth,” she said.

Press Herald Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this report.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at:

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