For months, Donald Trump and his team were careful to say effectively nothing about Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation. That posture changed considerably in mid-March, when the president started publishing tweets referencing Mueller by name, and Trump’s defense attorneys starting making public calls for the end of the special counsel’s probe.
This morning, the president went a little further, briefly talking to reporters on the South Lawn before boarding Marine One. After making four “witch hunt” references, Trump was asked about the prospect of answering Mueller’s questions. He responded:
“Well, the problem with sitting is this: You have a group of investigators, and they say that I am not a target. And I’m not a target. But you have a group of investigators that are all Democrats. In some cases, they went to the Hillary Clinton celebration that turned out to be a funeral. So you have all these investigators; they’re Democrats. In all fairness, Bob Mueller worked for Obama for eight years.”
Trump’s answer then meandered a bit, to the point that he started referencing how many electoral votes he received two years ago.
Soon after, as the president got ready to board Air Force One, he added, in reference to Mueller’s team of investigators, “The problem we have is that you have 13 people – they’re are all Democrats, and they’re real Democrats; they’re angry Democrats. And that’s not a fair situation.”
Much of this is demonstrably wrong. Some of the investigators on Mueller’s team are Democrats, but some aren’t, and the idea that only Republicans should be allowed to investigate a Republican president is itself absurd. (In fairness, I should note that some of the investigators are former Hillary Clinton donors, but then again, Donald Trump is also a former Hillary Clinton donor, so I’m not sure how relevant that is.)
Mueller, meanwhile, is a longtime Republican who worked under George W. Bush.
But in this case, the fact that Trump is lying about the special counsel’s investigation is less interesting than why Trump is lying about the special counsel’s investigation.
Politico had a good report yesterday on the strategy that’s starting to take shape.
President Donald Trump and his lawyers have made a strategic calculation that their fight against special counsel Robert Mueller is more political than it is legal.
They’re banking that the lead Russia investigator will follow long-standing Justice Department practice that a sitting president can’t be indicted, and that the only real threat to Trump’s survival is impeachment.
So long as that theory holds, Trump’s plan is to forcefully challenge Mueller in the arena he knows best – not the courtroom but the media, with a public campaign aimed at the special counsel’s credibility, especially among Republican voters and GOP members of Congress.
This may seem like common sense, but it’s nevertheless interesting to see the plan executed in real time. Trump could cooperate with the investigation, of course, but since he’s the subject of a criminal investigation, and he’s facing possible legal jeopardy, he’s likely to refuse.
But to get away with this, while also preparing for serious allegations that may yet be made by the special counsel, Trump has to play a political game, trying to undermine Mueller’s credibility and the legitimacy of his investigation. Legally, this is pointless, but politically, the president sees value in pushing the kind of bogus claims we heard this morning.
After all, if the lies can help deter possible impeachment, and prevent the premature demise of his presidency, Trump will repeat them every day without giving it a second thought.