Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax Media who is also known as a personal friend of Donald Trump, appeared on PBS News Hour yesterday and dropped a bomb on host Judy Woodruff when he said that the president is giving thought to firing Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who was recently appointed as a special counsel to investigate the alleged collusion between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.
Ruddy had been to the White House for meetings earlier that same day, although he did not actually meet with the president himself–a fact that Press Secretary Sean Spicer made abundantly clear when he addressed the subject after the PBS broadcast. “Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the president regarding this issue,” Spicer said. “With respect to this subject, only the president or his attorneys are authorized to comment.”
To which Ruddy fired back:
Spicer issued a bizarre late night press release that a) doesn’t deny my claim the President is considering firing Mueller and b) says I didn’t speak to the President about the matter — when I never claimed to have done so. Memo to Sean: focus your efforts on exposing the flim-flam Russian allegations against POTUS and highlighting his remarkable achievements! Don’t waste time trying to undermine one of your few allies.
Wow, mixed messaging from the White House! Who would have thought such a thing could happen?
There are a couple of ways of looking at this development. One possibility is the most obvious–and therefore ore most likely–explanation, that White House personnel who are in a position to know the president’s thinking on Mueller told Ruddy what was going on. Ruddy, in turn, went on television and spilled the beans as a way to make sure that Trump got the message that this would be a huge political mistake, and just feed the meme that Putin collaborated with the Trump campaign to steal the election. Ruddy made it pretty clear that he thinks all this is bogus, and he’d like to see it get settled quickly. In his view, firing Mueller would only drag the matter out longer, and make it look as if the administration was engaged in some Nixonian cover up.
The other possibility, however, is that Trump wants to float a trial balloon and is sending Ruddy out there to do it. The president may already have made up his mind about removing Mueller, and this is just his way of getting the idea into the public eye so it doesn’t come as a huge shock when it actually happens–the opposite of what Trump did when he fired James Comey.
Either way, it would be a horrible move on the administration’s part. There are a number of reasons we got a special counsel, not least of which were Comey’s machinations and selective leaks–but the White House also has to take its share of the responsibility with the way it mishandled the messaging on all of this Russia nonsense. But now that the counsel is here, it would be best to see the investigation through and make it absolutely clear that the White House is offering full cooperation.
But that doesn’t mean the Trump administration has to remain silent about Robert Mueller’s apparent conflicts, though. There is plenty of evidence of the close personal ties between Mueller and Comey, which could present the appearance of the special counsel having an interest in how the investigation turns out. Now by all accounts, Mueller isn’t that kind of guy–but by the same standards that got Jeff Sessions to step aside from the Department of Justice investigation into Russia, shoudn’t Mueller recuse himself as well? If the Trump administration wants somebody else in there, that’s the approach they should take.