Trump surrogates go after Mueller

Many in the president’s circle praised the special counsel’s appointment last month but have publicly turned against him in recent days.

Robert Mueller’s glow is fading.

The special counsel who earned bipartisan praise last month as an unimpeachable investigator who would give President Donald Trump a fair shake in the Russia probe is now taking heat from Trump surrogates intent on trying to undercut his integrity.

The wave of freelance attacks, which gathered steam over the weekend following Comey’s dramatic testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, echoes tactics used by Democrats in the 1990s to undercut special prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s investigation into the Clinton White House.“I think the idea of having an enemy when you’re the object of a special prosecutor is a very important one,” said Dick Morris, who helped pioneer the anti-Starr strategy as a Clinton adviser but is now a Trump fan.

“Clinton only survived a special prosecutor because he made Ken Starr the enemy,” Morris added.

  • Sidney Powell .. wrote an op-ed questioning one of Mueller’s staffers on the conservative site Newsmax, which is run by Trump friend Chris Ruddy.
  • Writing in the Washington Examiner, columnist Byron York suggested Mueller may not be the right person for the job because he’s been friends with Comey for 15 years.
  • Ann Coulter complained in a post that Attorney General Jeff Sessions “never should’ve recused himself” .. “Now that we know TRUMP IS NOT UNDER INVESTIGATION, Sessions should take it back & fire Mueller.”
  • Newt Gingrich, who in a Sunday interview on Fox News echoed the president’s complaints that the Mueller probe is a “witch hunt,”
    • It was a big reversal for the former House speaker, who wrote in a Twitter post on May 17, the day the Justice Department announced the special counsel appointment: “Robert Mueller is a superb choice. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down.”
  • The shift from targeting Comey to targeting Mueller became apparent over the weekend, when one of the president’s personal attorneys, Jay Sekulow, in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” declined to rule out the possibility the president might fire the special counsel.
  • During the Clinton era, Democrats called Starr a “federally paid sex policeman” who ran an unethical probe and had a conflict of interest.

.. said Trump surrogates don’t need to level attacks against Mueller, even if such an approach has often been favored in the past by the president’s New York-based personal attorney.

“Kasowitz loves this junkyard dog thing,” the attorney said. “My experience is that’s, more often than not, not a winning strategy.”

.. questioning Mueller over the staffers he’s appointed who donated to Democratic candidates “might be effective” for the Trump defense team. “It’s not an unreasonable narrative to start saying the team that has been put together is tainted,” he said.

But, he added, such a strategy could risk a backlash. “If you’re trying to affect the narrative, I think going after and attacking people of that stature who are not partisan people is really a mistake,” he said.

.. Mueller had interviewed with Trump to succeed Comey as FBI director.

.. For now, Morris said “Comey represents a better enemy than Mueller.” But he also suggested that Mueller will become a ripe target as the investigation unfolds, allowing Trump’s defenders to paint the investigation as an either-or proposition.

Trump Reaches Beyond West Wing for Counsel

Mr. Trump’s West Wing aides, like President Bill Clinton’s staff two decades before, say they sometimes cringe at the input from people they can’t control, with consequences they can’t predict. Knowing these advisers — who are mostly white, male and older — is a key to figuring out the words coming from Mr. Trump’s mouth and his Twitter feed.

.. Sean Hannity

Presidents always deploy surrogates to appear on television to spout their talking points, but Mr. Trump has expanded on that by developing relationships with sympathetic media figures like Mr. Hannity who also serve as advisers. Mr. Hannity, the Fox News host, defends Mr. Trump’s most controversial behavior in public, but privately, according to people close to Mr. Trump, he urges the president not to get distracted, and advises him to focus on keeping pledges like repealing the Affordable Care Act.

.. Chris Ruddy

The chief executive of Newsmax Media is a longtime Mar-a-Lago member and was a Trump cheerleader among conservative media well before the website Breitbart joined the parade. He employs writers and editors who tracked Mr. Trump’s career when they were at The New York Post.

.. Sheri A. Dillon

Ms. Dillon seemed out of place when she spoke at a too-large lectern in the lobby of Trump Tower on Jan. 11, describing the steps Mr. Trump planned to take to separate himself from his business. But Ms. Dillon, an ethics lawyer who worked out a highly criticized plan for Mr. Trump to retain ownership of his company but step back from running it, has repeatedly counseled the president about the business and made at least one White House visit.

.. Corey Lewandowski

Despite his “you’re fired” slogan, the president dislikes dismissing people. Mr. Lewandowski, Mr. Trump’s hot-tempered first campaign manager, was fired in June but never really went away. A New England-bred operative whose working-class roots and clenched-teeth loyalty earned him Mr. Trump’s trust, he continued to be in frequent phone contact with Mr. Trump until the election and beyond. Friends of Mr. Lewandowski say that he can see the windows of the White House residence from his lobbying office on Pennsylvania Avenue, and that the view is even better during his visits to the West Wing

.. Thomas Barrack Jr.

Mr. Trump divides the people around him into broad categories: family, paid staff and wealthy men like Mr. Barrack whom he considers peers.

.. Under Mr. Barrack’s leadership, Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee raised a record $106.7 million, much of it from big corporations, banks and Republican megadonors like the Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Mr. Barrack also helped usher Paul Manafort, the international political operative now under scrutiny for his ties to Russia, into the Trump fold last year.

.. Phil Ruffin

Mr. Trump has 20-odd business partners, but none is closer to him than Mr. Ruffin, 82, a Texas billionaire who has lent his ear and private jet. The president was best man at the 2008 wedding of Mr. Ruffin to his third wife, a 26-year-old model and former Miss Ukraine. Mr. Ruffin has a knack for showing up when Mr. Trump needs him most and remains a die-hard defender.

.. Carl Icahn

Rounding out Mr. Trump’s roster of wealthy octogenarians is this 81-year-old corporate raider and real estate mogul, who occupies perhaps the most respected perch in the president’s circle of businessmen buddies. The affection is longstanding: The Queens-bred Mr. Icahn has known Mr. Trump and his family for decades. It’s also numerical: Mr. Icahn is worth an estimated $16 billion, a major plus in the eyes of a president who keeps score. Mr. Icahn serves as a free-roving economic counselor and the head of Mr. Trump’s effort to reduce government regulations on business.

.. Melania Trump

Mrs. Trump is uninterested in the limelight, but she has remained a powerful adviser by telephone from New York. Among her roles: giving Mr. Trump feedback on media coverage, counseling him on staff choices and urging him, repeatedly, to tone down his Twitter feed. Lately, he has listened closely, and has a more disciplined Twitter finger.

.. Chris Christie

Mr. Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and palace gatekeeper, has shown a capacity to hobble his rivals, but few have been finished off. The most durable has been Mr. Christie, whose transition planning, several West Wing aides now concede, should not have been discarded.