Trump lashes out, cites ‘massive conflicts of interest’ in Russia probe
President Trump unloaded on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe in a Monday morning tweet, calling the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election a “witch hunt” filled with “massive conflicts of interest.”
A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 19, 2018
That tweet follows a weekend in which the president vented his frustration with Mueller, singling out the special counsel for criticism by name for the first time and raising questions about whether he is preparing to fire him.
Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added…does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2018
There have been conflicting signals coming from Trump’s legal team about whether a Mueller firing is imminent, although the White House has consistently said it is working with the special counsel in hopes of bringing the investigation to a swift conclusion.
On Sunday, Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, called on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the special counsel because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, to end the investigation.
“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by [Andrew] McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd said.
But Ty Cobb, Trump’s White House attorney in charge of dealing with Mueller, sought to squash the budding questions over whether a firing was imminent.
“In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the Administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller,” Cobb said in a statement.
Trump over the weekend also lashed out at the FBI and the Department of Justice in a searing string of tweets that escalated his feud with law enforcement officials.
The president’s Monday tweet about a conflicts of interest could be an effort to lay the groundwork for a second special counsel to investigate the FBI and Justice Department’s handling of the separate investigations into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified material and into Trump campaign officials.
The Justice Department must have evidence of a crime and a conflict of interest to launch a second special counsel.
Late Friday night, Sessions fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe just days before he was set to retire with full pension benefits.
The FBI’s personnel office had recommended McCabe be fired, but some Republicans have said the firing appeared malicious in light of McCabe’s intent to retire.
The FBI inspector general will release a report soon that is expected to be critical of McCabe’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s personal email server.
NBC News wrote that one tweet contained at least five inaccuracies or distortions.
- The probe started after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had testified before Congress two months earlier that his agency had been investigating allegations that Trump’s 2016 campaign might have contacts with Russian entities. Mueller was appointed as special counsel by the No. 2 official in Trump’s Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein.
- While Trump said there “was no crime,” the Mueller probe has charged 19 different individuals with crimes, including Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman (Paul Manafort) and 13 Russian nationals. In addition, five individuals have pleaded guilty, including Trump’s former national security adviser (Michael Flynn), a former top Trump campaign and transition official (Rick Gates) and a former Trump foreign-policy adviser (George Papadopoulos).
- Although Trump says there was “no collusion,” that’s not exactly what Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee concluded. “What we said … is that we found no evidence of it,” Rep. Michael Conaway said on “Meet the Press” yesterday, explaining that saying “no evidence of collusion” is different than saying there was “no collusion.” Conaway also admitted that Democrats on the committee have a different opinion on collusion. “The collusion issue, we found no evidence of it. The Democrats think they have. They’ve not shared that with us,” he said.
- While Trump said that the Russian investigation was based on “a fake dossier,” both Democrats and Republicans have admitted the original inquiry began with George Papadopoulos’ conversation with an Australian diplomat that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. “The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Peter Strzok,” February’s memo by Rep. Devin Nunes’ staff said.
- And although Trump says the FISA wiretap of former Trump adviser Carter Page was surveillance of his campaign, the FISA court order to begin surveillance on Page took place after Page LEFT THE CAMPAIGN, the Washington Post writes.
And the Washington Post detailed every member of the Mueller team’s publicly available voter registration information showing that 13 of the 17 members of Mueller’s team have previously registered as Democrats, while four had no affiliation or their affiliation could not be found.
Nine of the 17 made political donations to Democrats, their contributions totaling more than $57,000. The majority came from one person, who also contributed to Republicans. Six donated to Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 race.