Less than an hour after Attorney General William Barr released his summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings, Donald Trump spoke very briefly to reporters on the tarmac of the Palm Beach International Airport. Naturally, the president claimed he was “exonerated”; he presented himself as a victim; and he condemned the investigation itself.
But he then turned his attention to “the other side.”
“Hopefully, somebody is going to look at the other side. This was an illegal takedown that failed. And hopefully, somebody is going to be looking at the other side.”
At face value, the idea that the investigation was an attempted “illegal takedown” is difficult to take seriously. There’s extensive evidence connecting the Trump campaign with its Russian benefactors, and while Mueller appears to have concluded that those connections do not meet a criminal threshold, this hardly serves as a credible condemnation of the entire inquiry.
But it was that other part of the president’s response that stood out. After his handpicked attorney general told him what he wanted to hear, Trump’s attention quickly turned, not to talking about the economy or foreign policy, but to his desire to see additional investigations, this time of his perceived political enemies.
He’s not alone. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) held a Capitol Hill press conference this morning at which he lashed out at the FBI, announced plans for hearings on the Justice Department and Hillary Clinton’s emails, and called for a special counsel to examine the origins of the Russia probe.
This came soon after the White House Kellyanne Conway told Fox News, “Let’s let it all hang out. Let’s see what happened with the FISA warrants, the phony dossier, let’s see Hillary Clinton. ‘Oh, Why are we still talking about Hillary Clinton?’ Because folks, you wouldn’t let the 2016 election go…. There should be a reckoning, because our democracy bears nothing less.”
In other words, Trump World believes Barr’s summary can be weaponized. There appears to be little interest among Republicans in moving away from the drumbeat of scandal; these folks apparently want the opposite, confident that an intense focus on conspiracy theories involving “the other side” will work to the GOP’s advantage.
It’s possible the president and his allies have a better sense of public attitudes than I do. Perhaps there’s a deep national clamoring for more conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and the nefarious plots around her that Republicans believe exist.
But at face value, it strikes me as odd for Trump World to deliberately keep the focus on scandals and investigations, especially in light of the ongoing controversies surrounding the president.