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Friday, May 18, 2018

Trump's new legal strategy: "what's wrong with selling out the country? It's called winning."

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

Much as he gleefully signaled in the days leading up to the election that the Trump campaign had "something up their sleeves" to derail Hillary Clinton, Rudolph Giuliani once again teased the press last week that the Trump team was preparing to "make a fuss" on the one-year anniversary of Robert Mueller's assignment as special counsel for the Russia investigation. Yesterday was the day, and the Trump defense brigade unveiled its extravaganza. The Washington Post reported:

President Trump’s allies are waging an increasingly aggressive campaign to undercut the Russia investigation by exposing the role of a top-secret FBI source. The effort reached new heights Thursday as Trump alleged that an informant had improperly spied on his 2016 campaign and predicted that the ensuing scandal would be “bigger than Watergate!”

As usual Trump's ignorance of facts and history is monumental. Perhaps it was the first scandal that came to mind since everyone's always comparing him to Richard Nixon.

This is the latest smokescreen cooked up by House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes and the House Freedom Caucus, who are working overtime to find ways to take the heat off of their beloved leader. You may recall that Nunes has threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress for failing to reveal the name of this secret informant. A New York Times report that it's possible this same informant may have spoken to former Trump campaign officials Carter Page and George Papadopoulos seems to have ratcheted up the frenzy.

As is his wont, Giuliani took this and ran with it, telling the hosts of "Fox & Friends" on Thursday morning, "I'm shocked to hear that they put a spy in the campaign of a major party candidate, or maybe two spies. That would be the biggest scandal in the history of this town, at least involving law enforcement." He further claimed that this proves there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government because "that spy should have been enough to tell them, 'These people were not talking to the Russians.' If they had incriminating evidence, they'd be able to wrap this investigation up. I wouldn't be sitting here."

Actually, we know for a fact that the Trump campaign was crawling with Russians and that people at the highest levels were talking to them. There are a handful of former Trump officials either under indictment or cooperating after pleading guilty to various crimes, so Giuliani probably shouldn't count his Chicken Kievs quite yet.

But this "fuss" about the so-called spy in the Trump campaign is just one part of the new Nunes-Freedom Caucus-Giuliani-Trump strategy to deal with the Mueller investigation. The congressional hitmen will continue to harass the Department of Justice and the FBI, assisted by Donald Trump's mighty Twitter feed. It may lead to Sessions and others being fired, including of course Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But more likely Team Trump's job is just to lay down covering fire and keep Fox News amply provided with bizarro-world storylines like these:

These fantasy stories are having an effect, by the way. MSNBC ran a focus group of Trump voters in Wisconsin, hosted by Emory University and pollster Peter Hart, earlier this week.Here's a sampling of how they view the Mueller probe:
Unidentified male: They call it a farce by – created by the deep state. 
Unidentified female: I believe it was a witch hunt to overturn an election. He actually is there finding stuff that should be investigated on the Democratic Party's side and all of this stuff that they say that Trump did they're finding out that the Democrats did. 
Unidentified male: It's been going on for a year and a half. They've found nothing. They told, "Oh, there's something, there's something. We'll find it, we'll find it." There`s nothing. When Hillary was secretary of state, she made a deal with uranium enrichment selling it to the Russians. That's known. But they're still looking for stuff.

They characterized Mueller as a "desperate," "unethical," "partisan" and a "liar." So the president's base is firmly in his camp, although they all agreed it would be unwise for him to fire Mueller because it would "look suspicious." That suggests they are sadly uniformed about the mountain of roiling suspicion that grows larger every single day of this presidency.

Giuliani made the rounds over the last couple of days making another point that may be more salient. First, he said that Mueller's office had told the Trump team that it would follow the Department of Justice guidelines that say a sitting president cannot be indicted or prosecuted. On one show he even relayed a colorful story about how Mueller himself refused to say that and one of his minions piped up, reminding Giuliani of the scene in "The Godfather" when Don Corleone admonishes Sonny, saying, "Never tell anyone what you're thinking outside the family again."

We only have Giuliani's word for this, so who knows whether it's true. But the upshot is interesting: Giuliani said numerous times in different venues that the only remedy for presidential misconduct is impeachment. Normally one might think a president's lawyer would not be on television talking up impeachment as the proper way to deal with his client's scandal. This makes more sense, however, when you realize that Giuliani is also saying that even if Trump did conspire with the Russian government to sabotage Clinton's campaign in return for future favors, there was nothing wrong with that:

And of course, if Trump's team had received "dirt" as promised they would have used it like the patriots they are. So no harm, no foul.

This might sound like just another Rudy-ism but he's not the only one making this argument. According to CNN, Michael Carvin, a GOP campaign law expert who is representing the Trump campaign in the lawsuit brought by the Democratic National Committee against Trump and several Russian and campaign affiliates, has floated a similar theory. Carvin apparently argued that even if there had been discussion between Russia and the Trump campaign to change the party's platform and influence voters to oppose Hillary Clinton, "That conspiracy is not about an unlawful act. That's all quite legal. It's called democracy."

Trump's defenders are prepared to argue that if a presidential candidate conspires with a foreign adversary to sabotage a rival's campaign -- and secretly offer favors for the benefit of that adversary -- it's not a crime. That's the way the game is played.

Richard Nixon famously said, "If the president does it, it's not illegal." It appears that Trump is taking that concept to a whole other level, especially when you consider he wasn't president when this stuff was happening: "If the right presidential candidate does it, it is positively virtuous."