Trump’s New Strategy for Responding to Robert Mueller

they are pursuing a fresh line of attack in public, shifting from proclaiming the president’s innocence to attempting to undermine the probe itself.

.. Giuliani tried to filibuster Cuomo from playing an old video clip where he contradicted his own comments from 1998 about whether the president can be subpoenaed.

.. Giuliani previously said that he’d negotiate an end to the probe within a week or two, which didn’t happen, and the president said he was wrong about some aspects of a reimbursement to former fixer Michael Cohen. But Giuliani’s remarks make clear that far from ruling out an interview, the president’s team continues to work toward a meeting with Mueller.

.. it was only two months ago that Trump first singled Mueller out by name in a tweet.

.. The new strategy, particularly as demonstrated by Giuliani on CNN, follows three prongs.

  1. First, impugn the investigators themselves.
  2. Second, argue that the investigation was tainted from the start.
  3. Third, argue that Mueller cannot indict Trump anyway.

.. The Cobb-Dowd strategy began with the assumption that Trump had nothing to hide. The new strategy, however, seems to take as its premise that Trump is guilty of at least something.

..

Mueller, a lifelong Republican who has served presidents of both parties, is a tougher case to make, so Trump has simply lied, claiming for example that Mueller worked for Barack Obama for eight years. Mueller was FBI director for nearly five years under Obama, having been appointed by George W. Bush.

.. Giuliani, for his part, has referred to officials in the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, both of which he praised in the recent past, as “storm troopers.”
.. They argue that the fact that the FBI was investigating Trump as far back as 2016 shows not only political motivation, but also that there is nothing to investigate.
.. The setting of arbitrary timelines is a common motif. Trump has repeatedly said there is no evidence of collusion, even as two of his former aides have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with the Russians, and despite the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and others. Giuliani on Friday charged that Mueller’s probe “$20 million later has come up with nothing,” when in fact the investigation has been unusually prolific.

.. It may or may not be true that DOJ placed a spy in the Trump campaign, but there’s no public evidence for it. Someone inside informing the FBI about goings-on is not the same as the Justice Department sending someone under cover. Nor is it scandalous for law enforcement to use legal methods to investigate possible crimes.

.. We’ve heard this again and again. First, Trump claimed that Obama had “tapped” Trump’s “wires” during the campaign. This remark turned out to be nonsense, the result of a game of speculation in conservative media. Trump’s Justice Department said it was not true. Later, when it became clear that Manafort had been surveilled, some of Trump’s defenders claimed it vindicated his wiretap claim, which it did not, as I explained at the time. That’s a good reason to take the most recent claims skeptically, too. When Cuomo pointed out that Trump has often said false things, Giuliani blustered, “That’s a disgraceful comment about the president of the United States.” But he didn’t say Cuomo was wrong.
.. if anyone did commit crimes, they were being entrapped and led into crimes by DOJ infiltrators who sought to take down Trump’s campaign.
.. One doesn’t talk about whether or not one’s client can be indicted unless one believes that one’s client is likely to have committed some indictable crime. But the presumption of guilt has increasingly suffused the message of Trump defenders over the last month. It also surges through repeated warnings from Trump allies that Mueller might try to catch the president in a “perjury trap,” as though Trump could not avoid that by telling the truth.
.. The president appreciates aggressive media responses, and Giuliani is to a certain extent just aping the president’s own words.

Beware of Devin Nunes’s Next Move

Every indication is that this is far from the end of the committee majority’s mischief. All signs instead point to this week’s developments as the beginning of a new chapter in the story, in which House Republicans go on the offensive to support President Trump — and fight the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

.. First, the committee’s chairman, Representative Devin Nunes, attempted to provide cover for President Trump’s false allegation that he was wiretapped by his predecessor. Mr. Nunes met with White House officials in secret and then held news conferences in which he claimed that the outgoing national security adviser, Susan Rice, and her colleagues had wrongly sought to “unmask” (i.e., identify by name) certain Trump associates in surveillance reports.

.. When that effort ran out of steam, Mr. Nunes and the majority shifted their attention to the process by which law enforcement agencies obtained Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorization to conduct electronic monitoring of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.

The committee released a highly misleading memo claiming that the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice had abused their powers — claims which turned out to be unfounded.

The special counsel is examining three core issues:

  1. Did Russia attack the 2016 elections to aid Mr. Trump;
  2. did Mr. Trump or members of his campaign collude with the Russians to do so; and
  3. did Mr. Trump or others obstruct the investigation of these matters?

.. the majority report endeavors to gut the second question, declaring the absence of collusion altogether.

.. It would be a grave error to think the committee will stop here, especially its chairman. There is nothing in Mr. Nunes’s record to suggest that he will let up in the face of opposition

.. The so-called “Nunes memo,” although widely considered a flop, was just the first in a series that he has said he plans to issue.

.. The president and his supporters have argued that his constitutional power to direct the Justice Department and the F.B.I. and to fire their personnel means he cannot as a matter of law be held accountable for obstructing an investigation.

.. we fully expect them to weigh in on the side of the president, and against accountability.

.. Should Mr. Mueller move to compel the president to testify by obtaining a grand jury subpoena, for example, look for them to back arguments circulated by Mr. Trump’s lawyers that the special counsel has not met the threshold for such a step.

.. We also expect more overt attacks on Mr. Mueller himself

.. We must in addition look for Representative Nunes and his ilk to back the president should he seek to install a crony in one of the positions within the Justice Department that oversees the Mueller investigation.

.. Mr. Trump instead can try to throttle him by replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions or his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, with a compliant soul who can slowly choke off Mr. Mueller by cutting his budget, trimming his staff or curtailing the scope of his review.

.. In a week in which there has already been a major cabinet reshuffle, with the firings of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and one of his top aides, Steve Goldstein, the possibility of such a move looms larger

.. When Mr. Nunes released his first memo, there were ominous rumblings that it was intended to target Mr. Rosenstein for his alleged role in FISA warrant abuses. When the memo fell flat, the rumors faded away. We would hardly be surprised to see a renewed effort against him — and his boss.

.. The special counsel must gird himself for this battle, and all of us must be ready to defend him.

This new Trump book could do even more damage than Michael Wolff’s. Here’s why.

  • Trump has a tendency to do whatever his advisers most strongly advise him against, and they even have a term for such behavior: his “defiance disorder.”
  • He, out of nowhere, tweeted his decision to ban transgender people from the military before a scheduled meeting with then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to discuss his options on the matter. “Oh my God, he just tweeted this,” Priebus reportedly said.
  • His aides were similarly blindsided by his accusation, also via Twitter, that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump during the presidential campaign.
  • Trump was strongly advised not to dispatch then-press secretary Sean Spicer to dispute stories about Trump’s inaugural crowd size and later admitted, “I shouldn’t have done that.”

.. He wrote a column last month arguing that journalistic mistakes had allowed Trump to “shred the media’s credibility.” He has defended Trump’s Twitter attacks — even ones viewed as being sexist or advocating violence — as responses to the “battering” the president has taken.

.. The fact that the guy who made this argument early in Trump’s presidency is now relaying anecdotes — apparently via anonymous sources — about chaos behind the scenes in the White House should not be lost on anyone.

.. But what is described above is a president who is acting haphazardly and without the guidance of his aides, making major allegations and policy decisions on whims and — in the case of the inaugural crowd episode — deliberately pushing false narratives despite apparently knowing better. The juiciest bit so far appears to be “defiance disorder, “a term that could only arise out of repeated instances of Trump being perceived as acting not in the interest of the country but in the interest of defying those around him and trying to prove that he’s smarter — or that he can get away with things they say he can’t.

Shep Smith and Sean Hannity live in different realities. That’s a problem for Fox News.

Smith and Hannity live in different realities, and that is a problem for Fox News. A division between news and opinion is standard — and healthy — at many media outlets, but facts and alternative facts cannot coexist.

.. In March, Fox News suspended legal analyst Andrew Napolitano for making an unsupported claim that British intelligence officials spied on Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign at the request of President Barack Obama.

In that case, as in the current one involving Clinton and Uranium One, it was Smith who set the record straight on his afternoon show.

.. This recent history would seem to bode well for Smith. When Hannity and Napolitano made assertions that were contrary to the reporting of others at Fox News, it was the pundits who had to back down or face a penalty.

.. “Were Fox forced to choose, it would choose Hannity over Shep,”

.. “The network has clearly placed its chips on Trump — witness the reshuffling of the lineup to highlight Trumpier voices, including Tucker Carlson — and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more pro-Trump voice than Hannity.”

.. “Rupert Murdoch highly prizes and highly pays Shep Smith because he brings credibility to the network. … Hannity gets away with a lot but also toes the line when he’s asked to.

How Trump broke conservatism

Chief among them is Trump’s assault on truth, which takes a now-familiar form. First, assert and maintain a favorable lie. Second, attack and discredit sources of opposition. Third, declare victory based on power or applause.

So, Trump claimed that Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson’s account of his conversation with a Gold Star widow was “totally fabricated.” (Not true.) Wilson, after all, is “wacky.” (Not relevant.) And Trump won the interchange because Wilson is “killing the Democrat Party.” (We’ll see.)

The pattern is invariable. President Barack Obama is a Kenyan; the Mexican government deliberately dumps criminals across the border; “thousands and thousands” of people in New Jersey celebrated the 9/11 attacks ; Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s father consorted with Lee Harvey Oswald; vaccination schedules can be tied to autism; Obama was “wiretapping” Trump Tower during the presidential campaign; Obama asked British intelligence to spy on Trump; at least 3 million immigrants voted illegally in the 2016 election. Any source that disputes Trump is personally defamed or dismissed as “fake news.” And how is truth ultimately adjudicated? “The country believes me,” Trump said earlier this year. “Hey, I went to Kentucky two nights ago. We had 25,000 people.” Confronted by a reporter about his routine deceptions, Trump answered, “I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president and you’re not.”

.. Conservatives were supposed to be the protectors of objective truth from various forms of postmodernism. Now they generally defend our thoroughly post-truth president. Evidently we are all relativists now.

..  The problem is not just the constant lies. It is the dismissal of reason and objectivity as inherently elitist and partisan.

a pernicious form of tyranny: a tyranny over the mind.

.. The alternative to reasoned discourse is the will to power.
.. This is the frightening direction of Trumpism. It is the corruption that good men such as White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly are enabling.

Why are elites rewarding Sean Spicer?

Sean Spicer was no victim. He willingly served a president who asked him over and over again to lie. Rather than resist or quit, he repeatedly stood behind the podium, the face and voice of the White House, and lied

.. Spicer defended Trump’s lie about how there were three million fraudulent votes in the 2016 election.

.. He spent weeks using shifting stories to defend Trump’s lie about President Barack Obama wiretapping Trump Tower.

.. He lied about the nature of the meeting at Trump Tower in June, 2016, between senior Trump-campaign officials and several people claiming to have information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. “There was nothing, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for discussion about adoption,”

.. He insulted and demeaned the free press, continuing an unprecedented assault on objective sources of truth.

.. Melissa McCarthy, in her uproarious impersonation of Spicer (or more like an inhabiting of Spicer) on “Saturday Night Live,” arguably did more than any single human in peeling the bark off the dishonest press secretary. She exposed the peculiar mix of

  • inarticulateness,
  • obnoxiousness and
  • duplicitousness

that defined not only Spicer but also his boss.

..he fellowship for Spicer will be viewed as “honorific,” and hence a validation of his actions, which are defined almost entirely by the lies he told. Harvard absolutely should invite those who have served in this administration, although I grant you, the pickings are slim. But why not invite Sally Yates or James B. Comey? They’d surely have important lessons to depart about the obligations of public servants

Why Obama Should Lead the Opposition to Trump

Obama’s logic of self-restraint is sympathetic. He first of all clearly believes that one President should grant another a period of grace, as Presidents almost always do—George W. Bush, to his credit, lent a long one to him—and that is, in anything resembling a normal oscillation of political power, appropriate and correct. But this is not a normal time; it is a national emergency. Trump long ago disposed of the notion of normal constitutional courtesy when, without a shred of evidence or truth, he accused Obama of “wiretapping” him—i.e., committing a grave crime.

.. That the instigation of the violence in Charlottesville was exclusively at the hands of the neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates does not alter the truth that, historically, one side’s violence produces another’s. Leftists, infatuated as they are sometimes tempted to be with a renewed rhetoric of “street action,” need to be reminded that such violence in American history has always worked to the advantage of the wrong side.

.. In liberal democracies, non-violent mass protest can be an astonishingly efficient engine of reform; the threat or fact of violence empowers only its enemies.

.. What the dissenting, or “resisting,” side needs is exactly what Obama can help supply: principled leadership from as close to a universally respected figure as one could hope to find.

.. One imagines Obama, with his usual rhetorical deftness, making the point that the neo-secessionists and the neo-Nazis are not merely extraneous, obnoxious fringe groups—they represent exactly the enemies whom Americans united to defeat in their two most consequential wars. We are not merely combatting the enemy within; we are reaffirming what unifies us in history by carrying the fight forward.