Despite denouncing the New York Times as “fake news”, Donald Trump inexplicably granted the organization an exclusive interview this week. In it, he covered a wide range of issues, but Trump’s fixation on Jeff Sessions, James Comey, and Robert Mueller dominated the discussion in its aftermath.
Trump made multiple surprising statements, including his condemnation of his own Attorney General, but just as baffling as that was his warning toward special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller is currently investigating questions about collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. The President warned Mueller against investigating his family’s finances beyond the scope of any Russian involvement with his campaign.
Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, “I would say yes.” He would not say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”
Trump also accused the office of Special Counsel of being filled with conflicts of interest. In that vein, apparently members of the White House team are already investigating the investigators. A report late Thursday evening stated the following:
President Trump’s lawyers and aides are scouring the professional and political backgrounds of investigators hired by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation — or even build a case to fire Mr. Mueller or get some members of his team recused, according to three people with knowledge of the research effort.
FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.
The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
One of Trump’s lawyers, John Dowd, condemned Mueller’s expanded inquiries as beyond the scope of special counsel Mueller’s mandate.
Trump’s warnings to Mueller have set off a feeding frenzy in the press, questioning whether Trump is going to fire him. Reporters have used the opportunity to question the White House’s integrity amid cries of obstruction of justice. It has also drawn concern from members of Congress.
According to a recent Bloomberg poll, Russia is a “top issue” for only 6% of the American public, but it receives 75% of media coverage.
By all accounts, Russia really should have faded away as an issue. Most of the public doesn’t care. But no one has done more to keep the Russia story alive than Trump himself. Each time it fades from the headlines, he draws people’s attention back to it.
Trump’s insistence on constantly hitting back keeps this story on the front page. Warning Mueller and investigating his team are just the most recent examples of this phenomenon.
Russian collusion is not a top priority for most people, but the integrity of the Presidency is. As the old saying goes, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” It’s true even if there’s no underlying crime, at least from a political perspective. If the Left can morph this from a story about Russia to a story about corruption and abuse of power, the White House is in trouble. Firing Mueller would shift that narrative.
Whether it’s fair or not, Trump threatening to fire Mueller (or the perception that he threatened to fire him) gives a degree of credibility to the Democrats’ accusations. In people’s minds, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. They wonder what Trump has to hide. And if he does shut down the investigation, people would become certain that he’s hiding something. It’s highly unlikely that anything Mueller finds would be as devastating as the fallout from firing him. The ensuing controversy would dwarf James Comey’s termination.
While Russia is such a low rated topic for most Americans, healthcare is the number one “top issue” in the Bloomberg poll. It would be wise for Trump to focus on that and leave Mueller alone.