With the media quite hyped about the federal and congressional investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties with Moscow, President Trump seems to be getting frustrated with the direction the investigation is now taking.
Just last week, reports emerged that special counsel Robert Mueller, the man in charge of the Russia probe, has expanded the scope of his investigation to include the president and his family’s business dealings. Trump hit back with a public warning that Mueller would be in strict “violation” of his authorities as an investigator if he were to look into the Trump family’s financials.
In an explosive interview to The New York Times, published last Wednesday, Trump almost said that he would fire Mueller if he dared to look into his finances, but stopped short saying, “I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
However, Trump did threaten to publicize “other conflicts” that, according to him, could make Mueller’s position as the lead of the probe, very unethical. The president’s remarks to The New York Times come after his attorney, Jay Sekulow, hinted during several appearances on various Sunday shows that Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was actually illegitimate.
News outlets have also begun talking about Trump’s team of attorneys digging into Mueller’s team; looking for anything that may prove a conflict of interest, while also determining the extent of the president’s powers to issue pardons.
While Trump’s lawyers have vehemently rejected reports that they are investigating Mueller and his team, they have said that they won’t hesitate to raise objections if they feel Mueller is overreaching his authority.
President Trump’s aides and supporters have defended his frustration and concerns as legitimate. They believe his response is justified, considering the mainstream media’s wall-to-wall coverage of the Russia probe.
“There is just an abject frustration within the White House and the president himself on this unrelenting press coverage of this whole Russian thing, much of it based on leaks that are coming out of various departments,” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally, said on Thursday after The Times interview was published.
However, some Republicans seemed to be rather defenseless. When asked if it would be a blunder on the president’s part to dismiss Mueller, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, “I think Mr. Mueller is a well-respected person, and he ought to be left to do his job.”
Legal experts believe President Trump’s attorneys are looking at various avenues to find something on Mueller, before firing him as the special counsel.
“It appears clear that his team is reviewing with him and actively preparing for this possibility,” former President Obama’s White House Counsel Bob Bauer, wrote in Lawfare, a national security blog.
“This is the one aspect of the interview that could have been intended to serve Trump’s legal defense purposes. He is building the case for dismissal with all his claims against Mueller and others of ‘conflicts’ interest, and he reaffirms in the interview that he has that authority: ‘[I]t can’t be obstruction because you can say: It’s ended. It’s over. Period.’ ”
But analysts believe this strategy could very well work.
While others claim that attacking Mueller, his team, and the credibility of his investigation, could backfire for Trump by creating an impression that the president does have something to hide.
“This is not strategy, it’s a spasm,” said Jonathan Turley, professor at George Washington University law school. “This is a self-defeating tactic. It will achieve nothing but alienating the Justice Department further and creating the appearance of a White House under siege.”
President Trump’s supporters have been pointing out the history of political donations made by members of Mueller’s team, reiterating the president’s claims that the investigation is in fact, a “witch hunt.”
Former senior official at the Justice Department, Andrew Weismann, is known to have donated large amounts of money to popular Democrats, including Obama. Another member of Mueller’s team, former Justice Counsel Jeannie Rhee has represented the Clinton Foundation in legal matters.
“There are some real concerns with Mueller, with the people that he’s appointing,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), a Trump supporter. “There are some questions there where people are scratching their heads: Why don’t we appoint people who are not pro or against, Clinton or Trump. Just look to the facts.”
But Mueller himself registered as a Republican back when he was serving as Director FBI. He is also considered, in Washington DC circles, to be nonpartisan.