Trump on of­fen­sive in Mueller’s probe

Cam­paign in­tends to spread dis­trust

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY S.A. MILLER

Pres­i­dent Trump and his cam­paign or­ga­ni­za­tion are go­ing to war against the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tions, said an of­fi­cial in­volved in the ef­fort, launch­ing a mul­ti­pronged pub­lic re­la­tions of­fen­sive to spread dis­trust of spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s probe.

Capi­tol Hill Repub­li­cans and Wash­ing­ton legal pro­fes­sion­als say Mr. Trump should keep out of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and fo­cus on gov­ern­ing be­cause his protes­ta­tions keep the story in the me­dia spot­light and make him look de­fen­sive.

But the pres­i­dent is de­ter­mined to con­front head on the al­le­ga­tions of Trump cam­paign col­lu­sion with Rus­sia and ex­pose the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to be a po­lit­i­cal hit job. Mar­shal­ing op­po­si­tion from Mr. Trump’s base, the think­ing goes, will make it more dif­fi­cult for Mr. Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion to bring down the Trump pres­i­dency.

“This is a war,” said Bruce LeVell, a mem­ber of the Trump re-elec­tion cam­paign’s ad­vi­sory board. “Why would we stop talk­ing to the Amer­i­can peo­ple? That is the best thing you can do: keep

talk­ing to your base. And guess what? The base is grow­ing.”

White House coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way on Sun­day blasted the Rus­sian probe as a “con­clu­sion in search of ev­i­dence.”

“They’ve come up with noth­ing,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We’ve been do­ing this for al­most a year now, and what is there to show for it? What has ac­tu­ally metas­ta­sized in a way that we can say, ‘Wow, there’s a smok­ing gun’?”

She pointed to Mr. Trump’s rally last week with sup­port­ers in West Vir­ginia, say­ing the pres­i­dent is mak­ing good on his prom­ises to the vot­ers while the po­lit­i­cal class ob­sesses over a “hy­po­thet­i­cal.”

“Peo­ple just can’t get over that elec­tion,” she said. “The pres­i­dent is go­ing to con­tinue to talk about Amer­ica, and I sup­pose oth­ers, sadly, will con­tinue to talk about Rus­sia.”

Fight­ing Mr. Mueller’s open-ended probe to the court of pub­lic opin­ion is part of a broader ef­fort to get more ag­gres­sive push­ing Mr. Trump’s mes­sage on ev­ery front, which in­cludes the pres­i­dent’s con­sid­er­a­tion of se­nior ad­viser Stephen Miller for the job of com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor after his feisty ex­change with CNN’s Robert Acosta at a White House brief­ing.

The Mueller probe into Rus­sian med­dling in the elec­tion and al­le­ga­tions of Trump cam­paign col­lu­sion ap­pears to be reach­ing into Mr. Trump’s vast busi­ness em­pire and the fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions of his as­so­ciates, a move the pres­i­dent warned would be cross­ing a red line.

Mr. Trump also has erod­ing sup­port among con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans, who over­whelm­ingly ap­proved new Rus­sian sanc­tions that took away the pres­i­dent’s abil­ity to uni­lat­er­ally lift them. The bill, which the pres­i­dent re­luc­tantly signed into law, sent a pow­er­ful mes­sage that he can­not count on sup­port from Repub­li­can law­mak­ers.

David K. Rehr, a law pro­fes­sor who teaches strate­gic Wash­ing­ton lead­er­ship at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity’s Antonin Scalia Law School, said Mr. Trump ben­e­fits from keep­ing his side of the story in the pub­lic eye and forc­ing the news me­dia

to cover his com­ments and his ral­lies.

“It is one of his lim­ited tools to keep pub­lic pres­sure on what is an ope­nended, se­cre­tive probe that is likely to go on for years with lit­tle ac­count­abil­ity of time spent or tax dol­lars be­ing ex­pended,” he said. “His com­ments keep the par­ti­san­ship of the probe in the pub­lic eye, with the hopes of un­der­min­ing its le­git­i­macy.”

Mr. Trump has some dis­tance to go to build the type of pop­u­lar sup­port Pres­i­dent Clin­ton had when he was im­peached by the House but not re­moved from of­fice in a trial by the Repub­li­can-ma­jor­ity Se­nate. His ac­quit­tal in 1999 was all the more spec­tac­u­lar given the bit­ter op­po­si­tion to his pres­i­dency from the Repub­li­can Party.

Mr. Trump re­mains far from that level of po­lit­i­cal jeop­ardy. How­ever, there are les­sons to be learned from Mr. Clin­ton’s sur­vival in­stincts.

Mr. Clin­ton ben­e­fited from the abil­ity to keep his job ap­proval num­bers above 50 per­cent through­out the scan­dal over his ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair with White House in­tern Mon­ica Lewin­sky and his im­peach­ment over ob­struc­tion of jus­tice and per­jury charges.

Mr. Trump’s job ap­proval rat­ing stands at 38 per­cent in the Real Clear Pol­i­tics av­er­age of re­cent sur­veys.

Last week, Mr. Trump took his case to the Amer­i­can peo­ple, telling a mas­sive cam­paign-style rally in West Vir­ginia that the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion was a Demo­cratic hoax to threaten his elec­tion vic­tory.

“They are try­ing to cheat you out of the lead­er­ship you want with a fake story that is de­mean­ing to all of us and most im­por­tantly de­mean­ing to our coun­try and de­mean­ing to our Con­sti­tu­tion,” he told a crowd of more roughly 8,600 peo­ple fill­ing an arena in Hunt­ing­ton, West Vir­ginia. “We didn’t win be­cause of Rus­sia. We won be­cause of you.”

He gave them the cue to re­ject as laugh­able al­le­ga­tions of col­lu­sion with Rus­sia to interfere in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“Have you seen any Rus­sians in West Vir­ginia or Ohio or Penn­syl­va­nia? Are there any Rus­sians here tonight? Any Rus­sians?” he said. “They can’t beat us at the vot­ing booths, so they are try­ing to cheat you out of the fu­ture and the fu­ture that you want.” Demo­cratic strate­gist Jim Man­ley said Mr. Trump’s rhetoric was “just ex­traor­di­nar­ily di­vi­sive stuff” and did his cause more harm than good.

“It may play well with his base, but that’s it,” he said. “It’s turn­ing off more and more Amer­i­cans while at the same time giv­ing Mueller more am­mu­ni­tion to make his case.”

The next day, Mr. Trump’s sur­ro­gates from the cam­paign were back and ham­mer­ing home the mes­sage.

Lyn­nette “Di­a­mond” Har­d­away and Rochelle “Silk” Richard­son, the YouTube star sis­ters from North Carolina who be­came cam­paign trail sen­sa­tions stump­ing for the Trump cam­paign last year, de­liv­ered the mes­sage on “Fox & Friends.”

Mrs. Har­d­away said the pres­i­dent was be­ing rail­roaded.

“We know it was no col­lu­sion, and it’s a slap in the Amer­i­can peo­ple’s face,” she said. “We got out. We voted for him. We rushed to the polls and voted for him, and now you want to blame Rus­sia. No. These were the Amer­i­can peo­ple that voted for the pres­i­dent.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

RED LINE: Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion ap­pears to be reach­ing into Pres­i­dent Trump’s busi­ness em­pire and fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions of his as­so­ciates.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“We’ve been do­ing this for al­most a year now, and what is there to show for it?” White House coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way asked on ABC’s “This Week.”

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