I think we should expect a ramping-up of accusations against Trump’s critics in the coming days.
Trump’s interview with the New York Times on Wednesday 19 July, and the subsequent reporting in the Washington Post on Trump’s querying of the extent of his own powers of pardon signal, I suspect, the start of new offensive on the part of the Trump White House against those tasked with both usual legal oversight of the US government and the extra-ordinary Russia investigation.
In his NY Times interview, Trump went after pretty much every high-ranking official that has touched the Russian investigation, including his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions:
“TRUMP: Look, Sessions gets the job. Right after he gets the job, he recuses himself.
BAKER (NY Times): Was that a mistake?
TRUMP: Well, Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.
HABERMAN (NY Times): He gave you no heads up at all, in any sense?
TRUMP: Zero. So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have — which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, “Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.” It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president. So he recuses himself. I then end up with a second man, who’s a deputy."
Trump continued: “Then I said, ‘Who’s your deputy?’ So his deputy he hardly knew, and that’s Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore. There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any. So, he’s from Baltimore.” Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel: clearly Trump is impugning his integrity and trying to undermine his decision to appoint Mueller by implying that Rosenstein might be a secret Democrat with ulterior motives.
So too, implied Trump, is Deputy FBI Director Andy McCabe: “We have a director of the FBI, acting, who received $700,000, whose wife received $700,000 from, essentially, Hillary Clinton. ’Cause it was through Terry. Which is Hillary Clinton.” This is Trump smearing McCabe by marital association: McCabe’s wife ran for state Senate in Virginia and received money from a political action committee (PAC) affiliated with Virginia Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe. In neither case does Trump consider, appreciate, or be moved by, the conception of professionalism, including independence and impartiality of judgment.
Trump continues his slander of James Comey and his “illegally” leaking to the press. Of course, Comey testified that the president demanded from him personal fealty, which Trump denies. But the Times interview in which Trump attacks his attorney general and deputy attorney general actually strengthens the case that Comey’s account is accurate. Trump admits that he wouldn’t have appointed Sessions if he’d known he would follow Department of Justice regulations and recuse himself in the Russia investigation. He also publicly doubts that he can trust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, because he was US Attorney in a city, Baltimore, that is broadly Democratic in its voting. Trump clearly sees Federal law enforcement, indeed, the entire government, as beholden solely to him and his interests – not really news to anyone who has been watching carefully – and now he is not even afraid to admit it openly while he, his family and close associates are all being investigated.
Then there’s Mueller himself. The president declares bluntly, “I have done nothing wrong. A special counsel should never have been appointed in this case.” And yet he regards Mueller as conflicted because he was briefly considered to replace Comey. But Mueller is an even larger target in the interview, as Trump develops what surely will become the White House next line of sustained attack. Trump suggested that if the special investigator were to look at his personal finances unrelated to Russia, that would be a “violation”. When the Times asked if that meant Trump would fire Mueller, he responded with “I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.” A thinly veiled warning, no doubt, given that in an interview Trump's lawyer, Jay Sekulow claims that Trump has that authority to end the Russia investigation by fiat. Trump maintains he can't possibly be prosecuted for impeding the investigation: “it can’t be obstruction because you can say: It’s ended. It’s over. Period.”
Nor did the President stop at Mueller, he also went after Mueller's team, declaring, “Look, there are so many conflicts that everybody has.” Previously, Trump has alleged that other members of the Mueller’s staff have conflicts of interest, stating last month on Fox & Friends that “the people that have been hired are all Hillary Clinton supporters, some of them worked for Hillary Clinton.” Its true that least three members of the special counsel’s team have given money to Democrats, but Mueller himself was a registered Republican at the time of his FBI Directorship and has been widely described as apolitical. Still, it seems evident that the new White House strategy is to find dirt to discredit Mueller’s investigation before it is even completed, by implying it is a Democratic “witch hunt”. Consider that together with the comments from Jay Sekulow on the networks last Sunday about the irregularities in the appointment of Mueller, and its clear that Trump and his legal team are actively preparing for the possibility of unilaterally ending the Russia investigation.
According to The Post, Trump has recently asked his advisers about the President's power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the Russia investigation. Such a move would undoubtedly set in train a constitutional crisis -- although there are serious doubts that the Republican Party would respond appropriately.
Fasten your seat belts.