As its trail of arrests gets closer to U.S. President Donald Trump, the Russia investigation is facing a multi-front assault. The attacks have ramped up following news that Trump’s close confidant Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty and become an informant.
The president’s defenders are now seeking to poke holes in, and undermine, the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller. Here are six avenues of attack:
1. Mueller is biased: “It’s so disturbing and troubling,” Trump aide Kellyanne Conway told Fox News on Monday. She was speaking about weekend news that the Mueller probe removed a top investigator over the summer, after the discovery of texts to a lover blasting the president. This is atop reports that the same FBI investigator, Peter Strzok, was a key figure in the emails investigation that yielded no charges against Hillary Clinton. And there’s more: a paper trail of political donations shows several senior probe employees have a history of donating to Democrats. Another report said Strzok was involved in interviewing Flynn. Said Republican lawmaker Ron DeSantis: “It was almost as if they bent over backwards not to make the case on Hillary. With the Mueller probe, they’re just scorching the earth finding whatever little ticky-tack charge they can find on anyone… (Strzok’s role) undercuts the legitimacy of both those investigations.”
2. Presidents can’t be charged for obstructing justice: This is potentially a key question. There’s evidence Trump tried thwarting an investigation into Flynn. The argument here is he’s allowed to. Trump lawyer John Dowd expressed it via the Axios website: “The president cannot obstruct justice.” Harvard scholar Alan Dershowitz says Trump has constitutional power — to pardon Flynn himself, to fire the FBI director, and to issue instructions to the Justice Department. So what’s the legal problem if he orders the FBI to lay off Flynn, Dershowitz asks: “We’d have a constitutional crisis (if Trump is charged with obstruction),” he told Fox News. “You cannot charge a president with obstruction of justice for exercising his constitutional power.” He says presidents can only be charged with obstruction that involves innately illegal acts — like the Nixon White House destroying evidence and paying hush money. Other legal scholars call this a laughable, quasi-regal, anti-democratic argument. One headline on the Vox website said, “Trump’s lawyer: the president can’t obstruct justice. 13 legal experts (say): yes, he can.” A list of law professors cited legal precedents, and the fact that the president’s power comes from the Constitution — the same Constitution that says he must faithfully execute the law. Peter Shane of Ohio State University called the Dershowitz-Dowd argument “nonsense.”
3. It’s a nothing-burger: They say this investigation is built on a flawed foundation. Mueller’s probe was struck to examine collusion with Russia — during the election. His critics note that four people are now charged — two for financial crimes predating the election, two for lying to the FBI after the election. This view is articulated in a Washington Examiner piece, “Was it all about the Logan Act?” In this narrative, the root of the probe is a dust-gathering, never-used law from 1799, the Logan Act, which forbids people from undermining U.S. foreign policy: Flynn spoke with Russians during the presidential transition; the FBI then questioned him about it; Flynn lied; he and Comey were forced out; Flynn was charged; now he’s a co-operating witness against Trump. A closely related argument involves the notorious Steele dossier — a document filled with jaw-dropping allegations that the Russians spent years recruiting Trump as an asset, and collecting blackmail material on him. The document was gathered by a former British spy and handed to the FBI. But his original customers were Trump campaign opponents. Critics now argue that any evidence stemming from this dossier is illegitimate. Others say this entire line of attack is wishful thinking — there are already several documented communications during the campaign with Russians, or suspected Russian intermediaries like Wikileaks, and some other investigation targets, like Paul Manafort, had reportedly been under surveillance for years.
4. Cut off funding: This is reportedly the route suggested by Steve Bannon. Trump’s ex-staffer, and still-ally, doesn’t want him to fire Mueller. He’s publicly said so. What he’s urging, reports say, is that Congress slash Mueller’s funding. That view is articulated by pro-Trump senator Steve King, who told Politico: “For them to say to us, ‘Vote for an open-ended appropriation into a Mueller witch hunt,’ I think you’ll see significant objection.”
5. Fire Mueller: Canadian friend of Trump Conrad Black suggests how to make this happen. Deriding the investigation as a “never-ending fishing expedition,” Black proposed a chain-reaction of moves, starting with Rex Tillerson’s removed as secretary of state — shift the CIA director to the State Department; appoint to the CIA Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from Russia-related matters; have Dershowitz replace Sessions; have Dershowitz kill the probe.
6. Rally the base: Ultimately, politics could decide all of this. Trump’s fate could eventually rest with Congress, given the legal realities — the president’s power to pardon; doubts about whether a sitting president can be charged; and the aforementioned debate about obstruction of justice. Impeachment, the ultimate political punishment, requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress. That’s 290 in the House, 67 in the Senate. It means more than 100 Republicans would have to turn on their president. And the full-throated assault on Mueller — from Trump’s Twitter feed, Fox News, and conservative news outlets — provides a daily rallying cry for the ranks to remain united.
Oliver North Resigns: NRA Civil War Goes Public
Wayne LaPierre, who has been the public face of the NRA for decades, claims that the NRA is in serious trouble and may shut down after the latest public battle. The civil war between NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre and now-departing NRA president Oliver North exploded into the open Friday night with yelling, threats and screaming.
In a statement read to members of the group Saturday, North said he believes a committee should be set up to review the NRA’s finances. He said there is a “clear crisis” and “it needs to be dealt with” if the NRA is to survive.
He also then said he is resigning, and will not seek re-election.
Making this weirder, NRA is currently suing their public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen, over access to documents detailing how the firm spent the NRA’s money.
NRA board members grew increasingly concerned about whether they were getting their money’s worth from their long time advertising and PR firm; according to financial documents cited in The New Yorker, the NRA paid Ackerman McQueen just under $41 million in 2017 for ads that often just involved a logo. North is also an employee of Ackerman McQueen.
NRA board members have grown increasingly concerned about whether they were getting their money’s worth from their long time advertising and PR firm; according to financial documents cited in The New Yorker, the NRA paid Ackerman McQueen just under $41 million in 2017 for ads that often just involved a logo. North is also an employee of Ackerman McQueen.
North had sent a letter to the NRA board contending that the NRA had paid for, through a vendor, more than $200,000 of clothing purchases by LaPierre, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Additionally, there is an issue that the NRA has been delving into topics that have nothing to do with gun education and rights. Some members claim the NRA has compromised its values and is more aligned with politicians and enamored of power than its membership.
As a non-profit, they could be in trouble, if its found they are ignoring their primary mission and working in politics.
New York State could close down the NRA entirely by moving for dissolution if found that they are not following the law. As a nonprofit chartered in New York, the NRA falls under New York law and the purview of the NRA-hating NY Attorney General. She has frequently expressed her desire to tear down the organization, and has been signaling a pending investigation into NRA finances.
Hannity Wants to Leave FoxNews to Work for TrumpTV
The timing of Sean Hannity’s potential departure from Fox News matches up with Trump’s possible exit from the White House if he loses in 2020. Trump TV was an idea that was kicked around by the Trumps when they expected to lose the 2016 election, so it is almost too perfect that Trump TV could put into action if Trump gets booted out of the White House next year.
As Fox News continues to lose key members of its team, all eyes are now on Sean Hannity, who remains one of the last stars standing from the network’s primetime lineup. Hannity a few months ago tweeted an article denying reports that he was working on his exit strategy — but now seems to be confirming he no longer wants to be there.
According to sources, Hannity is still angry over the Murdochs’ firing of Fox News C.E.O. Roger Ailes and co-president Bill Shine, Hannity’s close friend and former producer. Hannity believes the Murdochs are out to get Trump. “Hannity told Trump last year that the Murdochs hate Trump, and Hannity is the only one holding Fox together,” a source who heard the conversation told me. Hannity has told friends that he intends to leave Fox when his contract expires in early 2021, two people who’ve spoken with him said.
A Fox News staffer told Vanity Fair, “Sean doesn’t feel supported. He has no relationship with Lachlan [Murdoch]. According to HillReporter: Sean thinks, Wait a second, I was hired to get ratings and I get ratings, but now people are embarrassed about me? He feels Fox spends a lot of time supporting Shepard Smith but his show makes no money. That’s annoying to him.”
Trump’s own TV network was dreamed of as a challenger to Fox News. There could be no better way to challenge Fox for their own viewers than to poach their highest rated host. The Fox News dominance of conservative media is close to splintering. Fox can’t afford to lose many more advertisers, and if their pro-Trump hosts bolt, Fox News as we know it could be dead and gone.
Trump death touch is killing everything on the right, potentially including Fox News.
Trump Blames Dead McCain for Healthcare Failures
In a Thursday interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity Trump attacked late Senator John McCain (R-AZ). He said McCain “did the nation a tremendous disservice” when he voted against a GOP bill that would repeal and replace ObamaCare in 2017.
“He did the Republican Party a tremendous disservice and he did the nation a tremendous disservice, tremendous, and it’s unfortunate,” Trump said, according to The Hill.
“He went thumbs-down at the very last moment and I thought it was a disgraceful thing to do and very, very bad for our country and bad for health care,” Trump continued. “It was done and then John McCain, at the very last moment, late in the evening, went thumbs-down and everybody said, ‘What was that?'”
Trump also criticized McCain for being connected to a dossier of claims about Trump and Russia. Trump also complained about not being thanked for giving McCain the “kind of funeral that he wanted” after the senator died of brain cancer in August 2018.
“I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted, which as president I had to approve. I don’t care about this, I didn’t get a thank you. That’s OK,” Trump said.