Donald Trump sat down yesterday with the Daily Caller, a prominent far-right website, and while the interview covered a fair amount of ground, I was especially interested in the president’s response to a question about whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller may be “interfering” with the midterm elections.
Trump responded by calling the probe an “illegal investigation.” In fact, he offered four reasons why.
TRUMP: I view it as being illegal for many reasons. Some of which are that, number one there was no crime and number two everybody was conflicted, including Mueller. There were, I mean tremendous conflicts here, you know the conflicts, you’ve heard the conflicts.
DAILY CALLER: Speaking of one which you cited, I’d like to know, you said you interviewed Mueller for FBI director.
TRUMP: Sitting right in that chair.
DAILY CALLER: What did you think during the interview?
TRUMP: I liked him, but I didn’t give him the job?
DAILY CALLER: Why?
TRUMP: But I had a business dispute with Mueller before that. I had a real business dispute. And he’s Comey’s best friend. And I could give you 100 pictures of him and Comey hugging and kissing each other. You know, he’s Comey’s best friend…. So that’s four things, that’s four.
Well, that’s quite a list. Indeed, it’s such a great list, let’s take a look at each of the president’s points in a little more detail.
According to Trump, the investigation is “illegal” because “there was no crime.” Putting aside how little sense that makes at face value – if there’s a federal investigation, and it doesn’t turn up evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it does not mean the probe itself is “illegal” – let’s not forget that the special counsel’s investigation has already uncovered all kinds of crimes.
In fact, two people very close to Trump – his personal attorney and his former White House national security advisor – have already pleaded guilty to assorted felonies, while the president’s former campaign chairman was already recently convicted on eight counts, ahead of another criminal trial that’s slated to begin soon.
It’s only true that “there was no crime” if one overlooks all of the many crimes.
He also apparently believes some of those responsible for the investigation have conflicts of interest, most notably Mueller himself, because he apparently interviewed to replace Comey as head of the FBI. And while we know very little about what transpired in that conversation – assuming the interview actually happened – the idea that Mueller is on some kind of vendetta against the president, driven by his outrage for not getting a job he already previously held for 12 years, is quite a stretch.
Trump’s third reason the investigation is “illegal” is that he and Mueller had “a real business dispute.” The truth is less dramatic: Mueller sought a refund on some dues at a Trump-owned golf club several years ago and never heard back from the club’s management. That’s the whole story.
Not only is this hardly the basis of “a real business dispute,” but as Jon Chait noted, “[I]f Mueller had a business dispute with Trump dating back to 2011, why would Trump consider offering him the FBI directorship in 2017?”
All of which brings us to the fourth of Trump’s four reasons the probe is “illegal”: Mueller and Comey are so close, the president could provide us with “100 pictures of him and Comey hugging and kissing each other.”
I suppose it’s possible that the president was kidding. Maybe he was exaggerating for effect in order to prove some broader point about Comey and Mueller being close.
But whether Trump was being facetious or not, the reality is that Comey and Mueller are not “best friends,” and even if they were, it wouldn’t serve as evidence of the special counsel’s investigation being “illegal.”