This post is excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.
A series of breaking reports yesterday underscored how serious Robert Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice investigation is and indicated that the special counsel could be gunning for the top [CNN]. There was news that Mueller wants to question President Trump about his former national security adviser, the disgraced Michael Flynn, and his fired FBI director, James Comey [WaPo]. Word came that he had already questioned Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the first Cabinet member to go in for grilling. Adding to the fire was this Washington Post report that, after he fired Comey, Trump asked his acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe—whose ouster Trump is now encouraging—whom he voted for. (McCabe said he didn’t vote.)
- WaPo: “Mueller now appears to be turning his attention to Trump and key witnesses in his inner circle, raising the pressure on the White House as the administration enters its second year. … However, some of Trump’s close advisers and friends fear that a face-to-face interview with Mueller could put the president in legal jeopardy. A central worry, they say, is Trump’s lack of precision in his speech and his penchant for hyperbole. People close to Trump have tried to warn him for months that Mueller is a ‘killer,’ in the words of one associate, noting that the special counsel has shown interest in the president’s actions.”
- CNN: “The fact that Mueller’s team has already spoken to Comey and Sessions and now wants to talk to the President suggests the investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice by asking the former FBI director to go easy on former national security adviser Michael Flynn and then fired him when he demurred, is at an advanced stage. CNN also reported last week that Trump’s former top political adviser Steve Bannon had struck a deal to be interviewed by Mueller’s prosecutors. ‘It seems to indicate that the investigation is in its 11th hour,’ said Jens David Ohlin, a professor and vice dean at Cornell Law School. Ohlin said the seniority of those questioned points to Mueller reaching a defining moment at least in the obstruction of justice portion of an investigation that is also considering whether anyone in the Trump campaign broke the law by cooperating with a Russian election meddling effort.”
THE BACKLASH: As much as the president and his team have tried to downplay Mueller’s investigation, the GOP’s mounting counteroffensive suggests they’re, at the least, a little concerned. Witness the Republican efforts to release a classified memo—backed by Russian bots, weirdly—put together by Trump-allied House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes purports to show improper actions by FBI and Department of Justice officials, who supposedly obtained electronic surveillance warrants for Trump adviser Carter Page based on the Steele dossier, which the memo tries to discredit [WaPo]. Then there was Virginia congressman Bob Goodlatte, who went on (where else?) Fox News to claim there was an anti-Trump “conspiracy” by two FBI agents whose disliked of Trump has been documented in text messages” [Politico].
- Politico: “Republicans have been particularly incensed by a new revelation from the FBI that five months of text messages between a senior counterintelligence agent in the bureau, Peter Strzok—who was dismissed from Mueller’s team for unspecified reasons in July—and FBI attorney Lisa Page appear to be missing. The bureau revealed to Congress over the weekend that it hadn’t retained the messages, which officials attributed to technical problems with the bureau’s storage system.”
- Here it seems worth noting that, two months before he was reassigned, Strzok was texting Page that he didn’t want to be put on the Mueller case because he didn’t think there was anything to it. Two months later, Mueller bounced him; according to the Republican theory, then, the entire conspiracy was hatched and implemented in two months. [Fox News]
- NPR: “What is clear is that Nunes’ colleagues who have read the memo say it must be public. But the process by which Congress could release a document involving classified information from the executive branch is fraught—and Nunes has so far not taken the step of sharing it with the FBI. That has not stopped Republicans from sounding an alarm bell about what they say is a scandal of epic proportions: a huge alleged abuse of surveillance power by the last administration. Democrats, meanwhile, dismiss the memo as a new partisan attack on the FBI. They say it’s part of a broader GOP campaign to undermine the Bureau and—by extension—special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.”
WHAT IT MEANS: If Trump wasn’t concerned about Mueller, then it would be strange for Trump’s allies to be so vigorously circling the wagons and pushing all manner of conspiracy to discredit the law enforcement agents tasked with investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia. That’s not to say the FBI—or James Comey, or anyone else—is above scrutiny or should be held in rarefied air; Comey’s unprecedented insertion into the presidential campaign is probably what gave us Trump in the first place. But the all-out war against the FBI and DOJ isn’t being conducted because Trumpworld thinks Mueller has nothing.
Related: While Republicans dismiss the Steele dossier as fake news, it might have been real enough to get a Russian general murdered. [Daily Beast]