For months, Donald Trump and his legal team have been extremely cautious in its confrontations with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. When pressed, the president’s defense attorneys have generally pressed Mueller and his investigation, all while vowing to cooperate with the probe.
That was the old posture. The new posture emerged over the weekend.
President Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd called Saturday for an end to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference, citing “recent revelations” and the late-night firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe as a basis to end the probe.
In a statement to NBC News, Dowd said he hopes Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will choose to end the investigation “on the merits” of the FBI Inspector General’s recommendation to fire McCabe.
Though Dowd clarified he wasn’t calling for Mueller’s ouster, the president’s attorney did say he prays that Rod Rosenstein brings “an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.”
To the extent that reality is in any way relevant, Dowd’s argument was bizarre – the dossier hasn’t been discredited and we already know it wasn’t responsible for launching the investigation – but this shift was less about making credible arguments and more about going on the offensive again the special counsel’s ongoing investigation.
It’s a campaign Donald Trump himself seemed eager to join.
Looking back over the last several months, there have been all kinds of developments in the Mueller probe – indictments, subpoenas, guilty pleas, etc. – but the president never once published a tweet that referenced the special counsel by name. That changed over the weekend, with Trump declaring on Saturday, “The Mueller probe should never have been started.” A day later, the president whined about the special counsel’s team featuring some Democrats and “zero Republicans.”
Again, Trump wasn’t telling the truth – Mueller himself is a Republican – but the larger point is that the president and his team are escalating their fight against the special counsel’s investigation in ways we haven’t seen before. The New York Times described this as “an extraordinary shift.”
What’s next? At this point, we don’t know, but it’s hard not to wonder about whether Trump – who’s already explored steps to fire Mueller before, and by some accounts, lied about it – may be preparing another radical move, possibly touching off a political crisis.
The new posture also suggests Trump World is getting nervous in ways it wasn’t before. Officials’ confidence about an inevitable exoneration has been replaced with frantic complaints and dishonest claims.
On Fox News yesterday, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), a conservative member of the House Intelligence Committee, said, “If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it.”
And therein lies the point: innocent people don’t generally act the way Trump and his team are acting.
Postscript: This weekend’s developments also obviously increase the pressure on Congress to consider steps to shield Mueller from White House interference. We’ll have more on that later on this morning.