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Schiff: 'First move' to protect Mueller is asking Trump administration to preserve records

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By Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Thursday Democrats made the "first move" in protecting special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation by sending letters ordering top Trump administration officials to preserve documents connected to the probe.

The expected new chairmen of the House Judiciary, Intelligence and Oversight committees sent letters on Wednesday ordering top Trump administration officials to preserve documents connected to Mueller's investigation and the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Schiff, the expected new leader of the Intelligence Committee after Democrats took back the House Tuesday, told CNN that this is the "first move" Democrats have taken to prevent Mueller from potentially being fired.

"But if the President effectively undermines the rule of law and causes the special counsel to be fired or an abrupt or partisan end to this investigation, then it will fall on Congress to find out the facts itself, to get those facts from the Justice Department, to continue our own investigation so that we can tell the country exactly what happened," Schiff said Thursday in an interview on CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

President Donald Trump insists publicly he has no plans to fire Mueller, but has worked to discredit the investigation, calling it a "witch hunt."

The letters sent from the four Democrats -- Reps. Schiff, Jerry Nadler of New York, Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee -- signal that Democrats plan to investigate Sessions' firing when they take control of Congress in January.

Sessions was fired by Trump Wednesday and replaced with Matt Whitaker as the new acting attorney general. Whitaker will now take the reins over the Mueller investigation.

"Committees will also be investigating Attorney General Sessions' departure," the letters state. "We therefore ask you immediately provide us with all orders, notices and guidance regarding preservation of information related to these matters and investigations."

The letters also are the Democrats' effort to protect Mueller's evidence if Whitaker, who has been outspoken against the probe, takes steps to curtail the special counsel investigation.

Schiff also told Tapper on Thursday that Whitaker needs to recuse himself, given his previous remarks about the Mueller probe, so that any decision he makes in oversight does not "have a taint about it."

The letters went out to nine individuals within the administration: Whitaker, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Chris Wray, National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Deputy US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Robert Khuzami and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.

The letters were first reported by Politico.