It is becoming obvious that Trump and his enablers are gearing up their efforts to respond to the Mueller report. Their overall two-pronged strategy has been clear for a while now: assume that the special counsel will abide by Justice Department guidelines that a sitting president shouldn’t be indicted, and (2) claim that the president has been exonerated because he hasn’t been indicted.
As Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn pointed out over a year ago, that means a political, rather than legal fight.
Trump’s plan is to forcefully challenge Mueller in the arena he knows best — not the courtroom but the media, with a public campaign aimed at the special counsel’s credibility, especially among Republican voters and GOP members of Congress.
“The public strategy has now subsumed the legal strategy,” said a source who has worked with the president’s lawyers.
It is in that context that Trump unleashed this load of nonsense today.
Trump: “I just won one of the greatest elections of all time in the history of this country — and even you will admit that — and now I have somebody writing a report that never got a vote?” pic.twitter.com/jrxJ9wMbgT
— Matt Shuham (@mattshuham) March 20, 2019
The president just:
- blamed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia probe well before Mueller was hired;
- suggested that Rod Rosenstein, who was nominated by Trump to be the deputy attorney general and confirmed by the Senate on a vote of 94-6, was “appointed” to his position;
- said that Mueller was appointed, not to investigate, but to “write a report;”
- said that he won “the greatest election of all time in the history of this country” which, even if true (it isn’t), has nothing to do with the Mueller investigation;
- referred to Mueller as “a man out of the blue who writes a report;”
- said that we have the greatest economy we’ve ever had, which, even if true (it isn’t) has nothing to do with the Mueller investigation.
In other words, he’s throwing out every lie he can think of to discredit Mueller and his findings. But behind closed doors, here is what the president is planning.
In fact, Trump has told his inner circle that, if the report is underwhelming, he will use Twitter and interviews to gloat over the findings, complain about the probe’s cost and depict the entire investigation as an attempt to obstruct his agenda, according to advisers and confidants.
The president’s campaign and pro-Trump outside groups will then likely amplify the message, while his advisers expect the conservative media, including Fox News, to act as an echo chamber. A full-throated attack on the investigation, portraying it as a failed coup, could also be the centerpiece of Trump campaign events, including rallies, they say.
Trump’s enablers at Fox News are already on it. Glenn Greenwald joined Laura Ingraham on Tuesday night to assure her audience that “the wheels are falling off the cart of the Mueller investigation” and that Democrats don’t have the integrity to admit that they have no evidence.
Meanwhile, Tucker Carlson devoted his entire opening monologue on Monday night to a series of lies about what might be coming. Obviously the president, who tweeted out the video, approved.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 19, 2019
Let’s take a look at some of the lies Carlson threw out there to confuse his audience.
- The Russia investigation is just like birtherism. Yeah, he said that.
- The Clinton campaign—through Fusion GPS—attempted to publicize the Steele dossier, but when responsible news organizations refused to publish it, they took it to the FBI. The opposite is actually true. Christopher Steele shared some of his findings with the FBI in July 2016. In October, when the New York Times published an article headlined, “Investigating Donald Trump, FBI Sees No Clear Link to Russia,” Steele became concerned and started sharing his findings with reporters.
- The Steele dossier launched the investigation. Concern about what Russia might be up to began when the intelligence services of our allies began reporting suspicious contacts to the CIA. Then the Trump campaign began hiring people with ties to Russia and Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Hillary Clinton. All of that, combined with the Steele dossier, is what launched a formal investigation.
- The investigation destroyed our relationship with Russia. Tucker actually said that one too, as if their attempt to interfere in our election had nothing to do with it.
Carlson ends his segment by clutching his pearls with concern about how all of us who have been duped into thinking that the Mueller investigation was valid will respond when his report provides no proof of collusion.
My response to Carlson would be to thank him for his concern. I’m sure it is genuinely heartfelt. But based on the fact that everything he said during that segment was a lie, I can guarantee that, no matter what Mueller finds, folks like him will be spinning it to suggest that it doesn’t prove collusion.
The truth is that neither Carlson nor anyone else knows what Mueller’s investigation has uncovered. I would simply remind you that one of the most explosive things we’ve learned—that Trump’s campaign manager met with a known Russian agent during the campaign and shared voter data with him—was made public by an error on the part of Manafort’s lawyers. Beyond that, there are the secret indictments already on file at the D.C. federal courthouse and the fact that Michael Cohen has already implicated the president in illegal activities. Finally, as my colleague Martin Longman pointed out, there is the overriding question of whether the President of the United States has been compromised by a foreign power. I’m content to wait and hear what Mueller says about that.