Trump takes aim at Mueller as speculation over Russia probe’s end grows

Posted at 11:10 PM, Nov 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-16 09:37:17-05

President Donald Trump is acting like he knows something about the Russia investigation that the rest of America has yet to learn.

His Twitter explosion on Thursday targeting special counsel Robert Mueller — his “thugs” and his “witch hunt” investigation — came without an apparent immediate cause.

But Trump’s temper apparently boiled over after meetings on three successive days between the President and his lawyers as they work out written answers for Mueller about alleged collusion between his campaign and Russia in the 2016 campaign.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that there are at least two dozen questions about events that took place before the 2016 election.

“There are some that create more issues for us legally than others,” Trump’s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani told the paper. Some questions were “unnecessary” and others were “possible traps” or might be irrelevant, he said.

Giuliani’s striking complaint about a perjury trap appears to raise the question of why he might be worried about such an issue — if the President were simply to tell the truth, in answers that will be scrubbed by his legal advisers.

The questions resulted from a tortuous negotiation between Trump’s lawyers and the White House over the President’s testimony. They only relate to the collusion part of the investigation and do not concern allegations that the President obstructed justice in the firing of former FBI Chief James Comey.

Trump’s huddles with his lawyers coincided with intense activity around the Mueller investigation, which largely went quiet in the days leading up to the midterm elections earlier this month.

The comings and goings have left Washington on tenterhooks amid mounting speculation that significant action by the special counsel could be imminent.

In the past, the President’s tirades about Mueller have sometimes coincided with developments in the special counsel probe.

There are expectations that Mueller, who has not unveiled any indictments since July, could be preparing more. CNN has reported that he has also started writing a final report on his investigation.

All the while, speculation has heated up about the prospect of major staff shakeups in the West Wing, including the departure of high-level officials who previously have worked to constrain Trump’s worst impulses.

“In this administration, there are arsonists and there are firefighters. The President is looking to get rid of the firefighters. The more he does, the faster his administration is going to burn down,” a senior administration official told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

New questions

The President’s fury sparked questions over whether he has any advance knowledge of any indictments Mueller may be preparing, or has gleaned other insight about the case from his new acting-Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

Much of Mueller’s work is taking place behind closed doors, but the evident bustle suggests plenty of reasons for Trump’s dark mood.

Those events included a visit by Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who is facing jail time on tax and fraud charges, to the special counsel’s office on Monday.

Attorneys for Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort, who is cooperating with Mueller after his own conviction, were seen at Mueller’s office this week.

Jerome Corsi, an associate of former Trump political adviser Roger Stone said on Monday he expects to be indicted for giving false information to Mueller or the grand jury. Corsi later suggested in an interview with Reuters that he’s in plea talks with Mueller’s team.

Stone, who also appears to be in Mueller’s sights, released text messages with an alleged WikiLeaks back channel about “big news” about Hillary Clinton’s campaign six days before the site released hacked emails.

Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., has reportedly told friends that he could he could be indicted, possibly over a meeting he and other Trump campaign officials held with a Russian lawyer promising “dirt” on Clinton.

With all that in mind, Trump’s Thursday morning tweetstorm appears to reveal a President fuming with resentment about the probe and possibly deeply concerned about what it might reveal.

Mueller’s questions likely offered Trump his most explicit sense yet as to where the investigation may be going and could perhaps offer him some hints about what witnesses have told Mueller. And the task of answering the questions, under the risk of perjury, may be a deeply unpleasant experience for him.

“The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts,” Trump tweeted.

“They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want,” the President said, in a comment that could be interpreted as evidence that he has inside knowledge of the investigation.

“These are Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, who worked for Obama for 8 years. They won’t even look at all of the bad acts and crimes on the other side. A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!” Trump wrote in one of his most furious attacks on Mueller.

Mueller was actually appointed to head the FBI in 2001 by President George W. Bush, and stayed for the rest of his administration and three years into President Barack Obama’s term. Obama later extended his 10-year term for another two years.

‘A bad week’

Speaking on CNN’s “The Situation Room” Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley defended Mueller and his team, adding “if they are going to do something, I suspect it will be rather soon.”

“Obviously, the President had a bad week and he doesn’t like these questions, so he is lashing out because he is afraid to take responsibility, frankly for anything,” Quigley said.

The President also revealed his anger about the Russia probe in an interview with The Daily Caller on Wednesday, which to some observers seemed like an tacit admission that he had appointed Whitaker after firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions in order to rein in the special counsel.

“Matthew Whitaker is a very respected man. He’s — and he’s, very importantly, he’s respected within DOJ,” Trump told the conservative website.

“You know, look, as far as I’m concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had,” he said. “It’s something that should have never been brought. It’s an illegal investigation.”

Democrats have warned that Whitaker, who is on record with fierce criticisms of the Mueller probe, and now oversees it, is nothing but a political henchman inserted into the top Justice Department job to rein in Mueller.

His appointment has added fresh urgency to an effort on Capitol Hill to protect Mueller. Republican Sen. Jeff Flake warned he would not vote to advance judicial nominees unless a bill shielding the special counsel got a floor vote.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a vote on Wednesday on the measure, which would allow any decision by Trump to fire the special counsel to be challenged in court.