US President Donald Trump promised peace after the polarized elections, but on Thursday the political climate is even more strained after he questioned the continuity of the investigation of the Russian plot and intensified his war against journalists.
Nothing provokes more the wrath of Trump than the independent investigation that directs the special prosecutor Robert Mueller, that the president considers a "witch hunt".
Mueller seeks to clarify whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian agents to harm the Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. In addition, it tries to determine the possible obstruction of the investigation by Trump himself, which could lead to impeachment.
Trump, who has threatened many times to end Mueller's work, on Wednesday made the first possible step in that direction when he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had refused to supervise her for participating in the election campaign. Instead he put Matthew Whitaker, critic of Mueller's work.
The replacement of Sessions, which Trump announced with a tweet, sparked consternation in Washington, where Republican and Democratic politicians have warned that political interference in Mueller's research can not be tolerated.
The Democrats, who from January will control the lower Camára of Congress, see Trump close to crossing that red line.
"The rule of law is disappearing before our eyes," tweeted Sally Yates, who was deputy prosecutor general of Barack Obama, and briefly attorney general in the Trump administration. "He wants a political friend to protect him from the investigation of his own campaign," he said.
In several cities of the country, protesters took to the streets to urge Congress to protect the investigation. "Matthew Whitaker has criticized Robert Mueller's investigation over and over again," Noah Bookbinder said in a park near the White House, where about 500 people gathered under the slogan "Nobody is above the law."
"Congress has to intervene and protect this investigation," added Bookbinder, who leads the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.
- "Enemy of the people" –
Trump knows he will face stark opposition after the Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives after the election.
But as the Republicans also increased their majority in the Senate, Trump was magnanimous in suggesting that a divided Congress provides the opportunity for bipartisan cooperation, which is lacking in Washington.
At a press conference on Wednesday he affirmed that there is "love" everywhere. But the love was over as soon as reporters started asking questions that Trump found offensive.
CNN's Jim Acosta, who regularly squabbles with Trump and his spokesman, Sarah Sanders, angered the president by asking him if he had demonized immigrants during the recent election campaign and then continued to question Mueller's investigation.
Trump ordered him to leave the microphone, but Acosta refused and Trump called him an "enemy of the people" and a "rude and terrible person".
The heated discussion, broadcast live on television, followed critical comments from Trump to other journalists. Hours later, the White House, in an unusual measure, revoked Acosta's press pass.
On Thursday, the White House was accused of spreading on Twitter an armed video to make Acosta appear more aggressive in defending himself from the press assistant who tried to take the microphone away from him.
"We support our statement," Sanders said. "The question is: did the reporter play or not (the assistant)? The video is clear, he did it," he said.
- "Constitutional crisis" –
The angry exchanges between Trump and journalists can sometimes seem like circuses, but analysts say the president's temper shows a lack of respect not only for Washington's rules, but probably for the law.
Those concerns are now focused on the future of Mueller's investigation, which began by examining the alleged links of the Trump campaign with the Russians trying to interfere in the election, and expanded into the murky finances of the billionaire president, including his business with Russia.
That Mueller gets into the heart of the financial secrets of the Trump family angered the president.
"It was supposed to be collusion, there's no collusion," Trump said Wednesday. "They were behind people with tax issues, from years ago, they were behind people with loans and other things, it had nothing to do with my campaign."
Refusing to supervise the investigation, Sessions put the issue in the hands of his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, making it more difficult for Trump to influence the investigation. But now Whitaker will be the new boss of Mueller and everything indicates that will show tuning with the president.
Whitaker did not discuss the issue since he was appointed, but has questioned the work of special prosecutor in the past.
The chief Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, set off the alarms.
"Interference with the special prosecutor's investigation would cause a constitutional crisis and undermine the rule of law, if the president tries to interfere in the impartial administration of justice, Congress should stop it, nobody is above the law," he said.
It is "imperative" not to interfere in the investigation, said Republican Senator Susan Collins.