Sunday, March 18, 2018
He's testing the waters, bigly
The toddler had another tantrum this morning:
President Trump appeared on Sunday to abandon a strategy of deferring to the special counsel examining Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, lashing out at what he characterized as a partisan investigation and raising questions about whether he might seek to shut it down.
Mr. Trump has long suggested that allegations that he or his campaign conspired with Russia to influence the election were a “hoax” and part of a “witch hunt,” but until this weekend he had largely heeded the advice of lawyers who counseled him not to directly attack Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, for fear of aggravating prosecutors.
Now as Mr. Mueller extends his inquiry with a subpoena to the Trump Organization evidently in search of business ties with Russia, the president appears to be losing his patience.
While his lawyers had reassured him that the investigation would wrap up by Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then early in the new year, it seems increasingly clear that Mr. Mueller is not about to conclude his inquiry any time soon.
“Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans?” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday morning. “Another Dem recently added...does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”
The attack on Mr. Mueller, a longtime Republican who was appointed F.B.I.director under a Republican president, George W. Bush, followed a statement by Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer published Saturday calling on the Justice Department to end the special counsel investigation. Mr. Trump followed up that evening with a tweet arguing that “the Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime.”
Together, the comments raised the question once again about whether the president might be seeking to lay the groundwork to try to fire Mr. Mueller, a scenario that would almost surely set off a bipartisan storm of protest. Some Republicans expressed alarm on Sunday at the possibility that Mr. Trump would try to fire the special counsel.
“If he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency, because we’re a rule-of-law nation,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has been an ally of the president, said on “State of the Union” on CNN. “When it comes to Mr. Mueller, he is following the evidence where it takes him, and I think it’s very important he be allowed to do his job without interference, and there are many Republicans who share my view.”
Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, said if the president was innocent, he should “act like it” and leave Mr. Mueller alone. Mr. Gowdy warned of dire repercussions if the president tried to fire the special counsel, which might require him to first fire his attorney general or deputy attorney general.
“The president’s going to have a really difficult time nominating and having approved another attorney general,” Mr. Gowdy said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I would just counsel the president — it’s going to be a very, very long, bad 2018, and it’s going to be distracting from other things that he wants to do and he was elected do. Let it play out its course. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible.”
The shift in tone comes just days after The New York Times reported that Mr. Mueller has subpoenaed records from the Trump Organization. Mr. Trump’s lawyers met with Mr. Mueller’s team last week and received more details about how the special counsel is approaching the investigation, including the scope of his interest in the Trump Organization specifically...Mr. Trump evidently has grown tired of the strategy of being respectful and deferential to the special counsel.
When Mr. Mueller assembled his team, he surrounded himself with subject-matter experts and trusted former colleagues. As the team filled out, Republican allies of Mr. Trump noted that some high-profile members had previously donated money to Democratic political candidates. In particular, Republicans have seized on donations by Andrew Weissmann, who served as F.B.I. general counsel under Mr. Mueller, as an example of bias. Mr. Weissmann is a career prosecutor but, while in private law practice, he donated thousands of dollars toward President Barack Obama’s election effort.
Can I just point out again that in the Clinton years it was considered a requirement that someone of the opposing party investigate?
Also, Mueller is a Republican as is Andrew McCabe. Not that any of that should matter. If we now only trust cops, prosecutors, lawyers and judges who belong to our preferred party our justice system is so far gone we might as well give up.
In his Sunday morning Twitter blasts, Mr. Trump also renewed his attacks on Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe, who like Mr. Mueller are also longtime Republicans. Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey last May, at first attributing the decision to the F.B.I. director’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server but later telling an interviewer that he had the Russia investigation in mind when he made the decision.
Mr. Sessions, under intense public pressure from Mr. Trump, fired Mr. McCabe on Friday after the former deputy F.B.I. director was accused of not being candid with an inspector general about authorizing department officials to talk with a reporter about the Clinton inquiry in 2016.
“Wow, watch Comey lie under oath to Senator G when asked ‘have you ever been an anonymous source...or known someone else to be an anonymous source...?’” Mr. Trump wrote. “He said strongly ‘never, no.’ He lied as shown clearly on @foxandfriends.”
Mr. Trump went on to dismiss reports that Mr. McCabe kept detailed memos of his time as deputy F.B.I. director under Mr. Trump, just as Mr. Comey did. Mr. McCabe left those memos with the F.B.I., which means that Mr. Mueller’s team has access to them.
“Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me,” Mr. Trump wrote. “I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them Fake Memos?”
Mr. Trump, who admitted last week that he made up a claim in a meeting with Canada’s prime minister and who is considered honest by only a third of the American people in polls, stayed this weekend at the White House, where he evidently has spent time watching Fox News and stewing about the investigation. After his Twitter blasts on Sunday morning, he headed to his golf club in Virginia.
In suggesting that Mr. Comey lied under oath to Congress, Mr. Trump appeared to be referring to a comment by Mr. McCabe that the former director had authorized the media interaction at the heart of the complaint against him. The president’s Republican allies picked up the point on Sunday and pressed their case for the appointment of a prosecutor to look at the origin of the Russia investigation.
“So we know that McCabe has lied” because the inspector general concluded he had not been fully candid, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader, said on Fox News. “Now he’s saying about Comey — Comey may have lied as well. So I don’t think this is the end of it. But that’s why we need a second special counsel.”
Other Republicans, however, suggested that the Trump administration was going too far. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida criticized the decision to fire Mr. McCabe on a Friday night shortly before his retirement took effect, jeopardizing his pension.
“I don’t like the way it happened,” Mr. Rubio said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “He should’ve been allowed to finish through the weekend.” Speaking of the president, he added: “Obviously he doesn’t like McCabe and he’s made that pretty clear now for over a year. We need to be very careful about taking these very important entities and smearing everybody in them with a broad stroke.”
Have we ever seen marco Rubio and a bucket of lukewarm spit in a room at the same time?
Still, it's a tiny step in the right direction. Trump is obviously feeling his power and is testing the waters on firing Mueller. So it's helpful for Gowdy and Rubio to make a slightly critical comment. But with Trump losing his mind the way he is, I wouldn't surprised to see him just fire off a tweet at 4am firing Mueller and that will be that.
In case you aren't on twitter here are the latest:
digby 3/18/2018 10:00:00 AM