Pres­i­dent de­nounces in­quiry as ‘witch hunt’

A day af­ter a spe­cial coun­sel is named, Trump vents his fury.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Noah Bier­man and Brian Ben­nett

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Trump could con­tain his anger for only so long — about 14 hours — be­fore lash­ing out on Twit­ter on Thurs­day to protest “the sin­gle great­est witch hunt of a politi­cian in Amer­i­can his­tory!”

But in at­tack­ing Wed­nes­day’s ap­point­ment of former FBI Di­rec­tor Robert S. Mueller III as a spe­cial coun­sel to head the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion and any role that Trump’s as­so­ci­ates may have played, the pres­i­dent risks alien­at­ing po­ten­tial sup­port­ers in his own party.

He could cre­ate an en­emy out of a pros­e­cu­tor who com­mands both a vast army of in­ves­ti­ga­tors and bi­par­ti­san re­spect.

And, yet again, he has un­der­cut ad­vice from top Repub­li­cans in­side and out­side the White House who say that an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion could help Trump. If only he could con­trol his ev­i­dent anx­i­ety about the case, the se­crecy of a spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion could keep the story out of the daily head­lines, they say.

And Mueller’s cred­i­bil­ity could pro­vide ex­on­er­a­tion for the pres­i­dent and his aides if the in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds that they have done noth­ing wrong.

The mix of griev­ance, hy­per­bole and de­fi­ance in Trump’s re­sponse, how­ever, was hardly sur­pris­ing at this point in his pub­lic life. His state­ments fit a pat­tern he long ago es­tab­lished of fight­ing back against en­e­mies real or per­ceived and of sel­dom let­ting go of a grudge.

In a sec­ond tweet, Trump com­plained that Pres­i­dent Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton had not been sub­jected to

the same treat­ment.

“With all of the il­le­gal acts that took place in the Clin­ton cam­paign & Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion, there was never a spe­cial coun­sel ap­pointed!” he wrote. He ini­tially mis­spelled coun­sel as “coun­cel” be­fore send­ing a cor­rected tweet.

Trump did not spec­ify what he meant by il­le­gal acts.

Dur­ing a lunch with tele­vi­sion an­chors be­fore a nine­day for­eign trip that is sched­uled to be­gin Fri­day, Trump con­tin­ued to crit­i­cize the spe­cial coun­sel ap­point­ment.

He called the in­ves­ti­ga­tion “a pure ex­cuse for the Democrats” for los­ing the elec­tion. “It hurts our coun­try ter­ri­bly,” he said. “It shows we’re a di­vided, mixed-up, not uni­fied coun­try.”

At a joint news con­fer­ence later in the day with the vis­it­ing pres­i­dent of Colom­bia, Trump took a slightly more muted tone.

“I re­spect the de­ci­sion” to ap­point Mueller, he said, be­fore adding that he be­lieved the “en­tire thing” was “a witch hunt.”

“There’s no col­lu­sion be­tween, cer­tainly, my­self and my cam­paign — but I can al­ways speak for my­self — and the Rus­sians — zero,” he said. He ap­peared to mean that he could “only” speak for him­self.

“There is no col­lu­sion,” he re­peated sev­eral times.

He also em­phat­i­cally said, “No, no,” when asked whether he had urged then-FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey to back off an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor. Comey, in a memo re­port­edly writ­ten for his files, said that Trump had made such a re­quest at a meet­ing in the Oval Of­fice on Feb. 14.

Trump’s lash­ing out is not unique. Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, for ex­am­ple, was known to rage about what he saw as the un­fair­ness of the lon­grun­ning spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor in­ves­ti­ga­tions his ad­min­is­tra­tion faced. Clin­ton, how­ever, kept his red-faced fury to pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions, and, of course, Twit­ter didn’t ex­ist.

But nei­ther is Trump’s very pub­lic dis­play of anger a com­pletely ir­ra­tional move. Trump and some of his ad­vi­sors clearly see anger over the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as a way to unite his core sup­port­ers against a com­mon en­emy at a time when at least some of his vot­ers have be­gun show­ing signs, in polls, of wa­ver­ing.

In fundrais­ing emails Thurs­day, Trump boasted that he had set a new post­elec­tion high for his cam­paign in on­line money rais­ing de­spite “un­re­lent­ing and un­prece­dented po­lit­i­cal at­tacks against a sit­ting pres­i­dent” by the me­dia and po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple sent Pres­i­dent Trump to Wash­ing­ton not to get along with the es­tab­lish­ment but to re­pair the dam­age done to our econ­omy and our pres­tige around the world by their poli­cies and prac­tices,” he wrote.

Trump’s in­stinct to bat­tle, how­ever, and the po­lit­i­cal de­sire to use the fight to unite his sup­port­ers is at odds with the strat­egy that many of his ad­vi­sors would pre­fer — one closer to the ap­proach other ad­min­is­tra­tions have used of try­ing to in­su­late the White House’s daily func­tions from scan­dal.

Clin­ton’s press of­fice hired an out­side agency to han­dle ques­tions about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that even­tu­ally led to his im­peach­ment over the Mon­ica Lewin­sky af­fair. Although it did not end the saga for him, it did take some of the pres­sure off his White House staff, al­low­ing them to speak more about pol­icy dur­ing pub­lic brief­ings.

Wed­nes­day night, the White House seemed to be inch­ing to­ward a sim­i­lar goal, is­su­ing a state­ment that of­fered muted ap­proval of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and urged a speedy con­clu­sion.

Con­gres­sional Repub­li­can lead­ers ap­peared to be fol­low­ing that play­book Thurs­day.

Af­ter Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosen­stein briefed sen­a­tors on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, sev­eral GOP law­mak­ers sug­gested that with Mueller in place, the time had come for con­gres­sional com­mit­tees to scale back their in­ves­ti­ga­tions, which in­volve highly pub­lic hear­ings, and al­low the spe­cial coun­sel to carry out his in­quiry, which can be ex­pected to of­fer fewer head­lines un­til it reaches a con­clu­sion.

The ap­point­ment of Mueller “has re­ally lim­ited what Congress can do,” said Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham (RS.C.). “This was a coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It is now a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Trump’s ad­vi­sors have been frus­trated that he has so of­ten failed to stick to such strate­gies.

“Clearly they’re not on the same page, but I don’t know why,” said Barry Ben­nett, a former ad­vi­sor to Trump’s cam­paign who has friends serv­ing in the White House.

Ben­nett said Trump con­tin­ued to rely mostly on ad­vice from “his New York bud­dies” — friends closer to his age and wealth whom he re­spects more, but who lack ex­pe­ri­ence in politics and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Like others, Ben­nett ex­pects Trump to shake up his staff, dis­pens­ing with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, upon his re­turn from the for­eign trip.

Anx­i­ety over a po­ten­tial staff shake-up, Ben­nett said, has left those in­side with even less clout to ad­vise the pres­i­dent.

“It’s a com­bi­na­tion of his frus­tra­tion and peo­ple’s ex­haus­tion,” he said.

But an­other per­son in close con­tact with White House staff, who re­quested anonymity to dis­cuss the is­sue, said many of Trump’s aides re­mained de­voted and united be­hind the task of de­fend­ing him. The stress staffers are feel­ing is en­demic to any White House, the per­son said.

“Any­body that’s sur­prised by” Trump’s dis­dain for lis­ten­ing to his press team and po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sors “should have been pay­ing at­ten­tion to the cam­paign,” the per­son said. “To think it would be any dif­fer­ent in the White House makes you dumb.”

With the rush of events at home, Trump’s over­seas trip now prom­ises to be even more fraught for the new pres­i­dent.

Trump would like the trip to be shorter, a White House of­fi­cial said. His son-in-law and close ad­vi­sor, Jared Kush­ner, or­ches­trated the stops in Saudi Ara­bia and Is­rael, which length­ened a trip that orig­i­nally was de­signed to go only to Italy and NATO head­quar­ters in Brus­sels.

Trump liked the broader mis­sion, but be­ing away from a fa­mil­iar bed for more than a week is dif­fi­cult for him. He is of­ten teased by his chil­dren as be­ing a “home­body,” the of­fi­cial said.

One per­son who will be stay­ing be­hind is strate­gic ad­vi­sor Stephen K. Ban­non. He has stepped back from for­eign pol­icy in the last two months as Kush­ner showed he had more in­flu­ence with the pres­i­dent in that arena.

The last sev­eral days of­fered a pre­view of how the cur­rent dis­trac­tions, com­bined with Trump’s dis­dain for scripted pro­to­cols, could leave the pres­i­dent ill-pre­pared for his de­but abroad.

On Tues­day, Trump re­peat­edly mis­pro­nounced the name of Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan as the Turk­ish pres­i­dent stood be­side him. He also ap­peared bored or dis­tracted when Er­do­gan spoke, com­ing to life when the Turk­ish pres­i­dent in­jected some ful­some praise for Trump and his elec­tion vic­tory.

On Thurs­day, he ap­peared to strug­gle to keep fo­cus while Colom­bia’s pres­i­dent, Juan Manuel San­tos, was speak­ing.

Pres­i­dents usu­ally sit through “pre-trip brief­ings galore” be­fore for­eign vis­its, said Michael Allen, who was an ad­vi­sor to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

Be­fore Bush trav­eled, his White House chief of staff would carve out ex­ten­sive time for se­nior di­rec­tors on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and other ex­perts to brief the pres­i­dent. Allen said the brief­ings could get quite pre­cise: “This is what you will see, what they will say, what you might dis­cuss, what you need to know.”

But with Trump, said a Repub­li­can who for­merly worked in the White House, “the trou­ble will be if he goes off script. Trump can’t con­trol him­self.”

Mark Wilson Getty Im­ages

“THERE IS NO COL­LU­SION,” Pres­i­dent Trump re­peat­edly told re­porters dur­ing a joint news con­fer­ence with Colom­bia’s leader at the White House. Some ad­vi­sors see a ben­e­fit to his anger at the Rus­sia in­quiry.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.