In an angry string of tweets Thursday morning, President Donald Trump denounced special counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation as “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!” and “a disgrace to our Nation.”
Trump asserted that Mueller is “highly conflicted,” and suggested the longtime Republican former FBI director must be a Democratic partisan because he didn’t quit when former President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want. They are a disgrace to our Nation and don’t...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2018
....care how many lives the ruin. 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2018
Trump’s claim that Mueller “worked for Obama for 8 years” is factually incorrect — he served as FBI director for eight years under Bush, and four under Obama.
It’s unclear how Trump could possibly know about the “inner workings” of Mueller’s investigation. But what is clear is that Trump’s tweets represent an attempt to publicly discredit the special counsel at best, and a move to lay groundwork for firing him at worst.
All of this makes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s assertion on Wednesday that legislation is not needed to protect special counsel Robert Mueller seem dubious at best.
“As you can imagine, I talk to the president fairly often, [and there’s been] no indication that the Mueller investigation will not be allowed to finish, and it should be allowed to finish,” McConnell said at a press conference Wednesday. “We know how the president feels about the Mueller investigation, but he’s never said, ‘I want to shut it down.’ ... I think it’s in no danger, so I don’t think any legislation is necessary.”
Trump didn’t explicitly say he wanted to shut the investigation down, but his criticism — especially with Trump loyalist Matthew Whitaker now overseeing Mueller — makes McConnell’s assurance that it’s “in no danger” seem a little silly.
The Mueller investigation is now overseen by someone hostile to it
Trump’s angry rant about Mueller comes eight days after he forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions. who, much to Trump’s public displeasure, had recused himself from overseeing the FBI’s Russia investigation in March 2017 after false statements he made to the Senate about his contacts with Russians came to light.
Trump replaced him with Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, who reportedly came to Trump’s attention because of his anti-Mueller commentary during appearances on cable TV.
Vox detailed Whitaker’s extensive history of public statements criticizing the special counsel:
[B]etween May and September 2017 — before he got the job as Sessions’s chief of staff — Whitaker said or tweeted:
— That Trump “made the right decision” by firing FBI Director James Comey
— That Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was “ridiculous” and “a little fishy”
— That Mueller investigating Trump’s finances would be “going too far”
— That there is “no criminal obstruction of justice charge to be had” against Trump
— That “the truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign”
— That Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer was fine because any candidate would have taken the meeting
— That an article headlined: “Note to Trump’s lawyer: Do not cooperate with Mueller lynch mob” was “worth a read”
— That Trump could push out Sessions and replace him with an acting appointee who would reduce Mueller’s budget “so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt”
It sure looks like Trump may have put in Whitaker as a hatchet man, to end the probe or at least to better “protect” Trump from it.
Whitaker has refused to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation — a role he took over from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel following Sessions’s recusal and Trump’s firing of then-FBI Director James Comey in May 2017. Trump’s tweets about the “inner workings” of the special counsel’s work suggest Whitaker may already be sharing information with him.
Thursday morning’s tweets are far from the first time Trump has publicly raged against Mueller. But it is the first time he’s done so since Whitaker took over as the top DOJ official overseeing his investigation, and the tweets come amid indications that Mueller’s work is closing in on Trump’s inner circle.
Donald Trump Jr. reportedly told friends of his he is worried about getting indicted for making false statements to Congress about his role in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Trump campaign officials met with Kremlin-connected Russians who promised to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton.
On Wednesday evening, news broke that longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone may have known more about WikiLeaks’ publication of emails hacked from the Clinton campaign by Russian hackers than he has let on. And court fillings indicate former Trump deputy campaign chair Rick Gates is now cooperating with “several ongoing investigations” — a change from August, when he was just cooperating with Mueller.
Trump himself seems to have Mueller on his mind. During an interview with the Daily Caller on Wednesday, the president responded to a question about possible Whitaker replacements by admitting, unprompted, that his appointment was all about his frustration over Mueller.
Note that just yesterday, two Daily Caller propagandists lobbed Trump a softball about potential Whitaker replacements, and Trump, unprompted, confessed that Whitaker's appointment was all about Mueller. pic.twitter.com/23Q4vpxdAe— Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler) November 15, 2018
Members of Congress are set to leave Washington, DC, for nearly two weeks after Thursday. But even if Congress was around, it’s unclear exactly what they would do if Trump fired Mueller.
During a CNN interview on Thursday morning, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) dismissed Trump’s latest anti-Mueller tweets as just “talk,” but had no answers about what Congress would do if Trump decided to act on his words.
A bill that would stop Justice Department officials who haven’t been confirmed by the Senate (like Whitaker) from being able to fire Mueller got bipartisan support in a Senate committee, but McConnell is refusing to let it come up for a vote on the Senate floor. Lame-duck Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) announced this week that he will oppose all of Trump’s judicial nominees until McConnell allows a vote.