One day after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced he was making former FBI Director Robert Mueller a special counsel for the investigation, President Donald Trump called the investigation of the ongoing probe into his campaign’s ties to Russia a “witch hunt” and said that a special counsel “divides the country.”
“I believe it hurts the country terribly, because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country,” the president said during a luncheon with television news anchors at the White House, according to a transcript of the meeting.
…On Thursday morning, Trump proclaimed it was a “witch hunt.”
Trump reiterated his issues with the appointment during a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the White House later Thursday.
“Well, I respect the move. But the entire thing has been a witch hunt,” Trump said.
“I’m fine with whatever people want to do, but we have to get back to running the country really, really, really well. …Believe me, there’s no collusion. Russia is fine.”
He again denied he was involved in any tinkering with the elections but said he can’t speak “for others” — suggesting he’s getting ready to throw a lot of associates under the bus that’s careening off a cliff: they may have crossed the line in his name, he suggests, but he never did.
And he blamed the issue largely on Democrats:
“It also happens to be a pure excuse for the Democrats having lost an election that they should have easily won because of the Electoral College being slanted so much in their way,” he said. “That’s all this is.”
The president lamented that the Russia probe is sucking up oxygen in Washington, preventing his agenda from moving forward.
“We have very important things to be doing right now, whether it’s trade deals, whether it’s military, whether it’s stopping nuclear — all of the things that we discussed today,” he said. “And I think it shows a divided country.”
And Trump — one of the few Presidents who didn’t offer an olive branch to the voters who voted against him, and who repeatedly indulges in partisan and personal attacks on Democrats, including his vanquished rival for the presidency Hillary Clinton — has seemingly worked overtime to keep it divided.
Meanwhile, there are an array of developments that can’t be good news for Trump:
Reuters reports that the Trump campaign had at least 18 unauthorized contacts with Russians:
Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.
The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.
Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.
In January, the Trump White House initially denied any contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. The White House and advisers to the campaign have since confirmed four meetings between Kislyak and Trump advisers during that time.
The people who described the contacts to Reuters said they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far. But the disclosure could increase the pressure on Trump and his aides to provide the FBI and Congress with a full account of interactions with Russian officials and others with links to the Kremlin during and immediately after the 2016 election.
Trump reportedly told Flynn to stay strong as investigators drew closer:
Late last month, fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — under investigation by federal prosecutors, with his lawyer seeking immunity for him to testify to Congress — met with a small group of loyalists at a restaurant in the northern Virginia suburbs.
Saddled with steep legal bills, Flynn wanted to reconnect with old friends and talk about potential future business opportunities. But one overriding question among those present were his views on the president who had fired him from his national security advisor post.
Flynn left little doubt about the answer. Not only did he remain loyal to President Trump; he indicated that he and the president were still in communication. “I just got a message from the president to stay strong,” Flynn said after the meal was over, according to two sources who are close to Flynn and are familiar with the conversation, which took place on April 25.
The comment came at the end of an especially difficult day for Flynn, during which his legal woes appeared to grow
Senate Democrats say the Assistant Attorney General knew before he wrote the memo that Trump wanted to fire FBI Director James Comey:
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein knew FBI Director James Comey was going to be fired before he wrote a memo recommending Comey’s dismissal, a pair of Democratic senators said Thursday.
“He did acknowledge that he learned that Comey would be removed prior to him writing his memo,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told reporters after leaving a closed-door briefing with Rosenstein.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Rosenstein knew of Comey’s dismissal one day before Trump announced Comey’s termination.
“He knew it the day before,” Durbin, the Senate minority whip, told reporters, adding that Rosenstein didn’t indicate he was pressured to write the recommendation.
Trump’s former rival for the GOP Presidential nomination Florida Senator Marco Rubio took issue with some of the President’s remarks:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) responded to President Trump’s claim that he is the victim of a “witch hunt” on Thursday by saying the United States is a “nation of laws.”
“The president is entitled to his opinion, but we’re a nation of laws,” Rubio told reporters, referring to the special counsel recently appointed to investigate Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, including any ties between Moscow and members of Trump’s campaign team.
“That’s not a criticism of the president. That is a reality that our institutions work. The acting attorney general has the authority to appoint a special counsel and has done so,” he added.
Sen. Lindsay Graham says this is now a criminal investigation:
Following a rare briefing of the entire Senate by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Senator Lindsey Graham met with a pack of reporters on Capitol Hill to discuss the latest on the probe into Russian interference in the election.
And after Rosenstein’s appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel, Graham announced that the probe has fundamentally changed in nature.
“It’s now considered a criminal investigation,” Graham said.
Graham added that Congress will now have “severely limited” ability to conduct any investigation, and seemed to suggest that some of his colleagues on the Hill who banged the drum for a special counsel didn’t fully grasp the ramifications.
Meanwhile, with the FBI position open, you’d think (NOT!) that Trump would pick someone from law enforcement who has solid credentials as a prosecutor, FBI agent. Reports suggests the nod will likely go to…former CT Senator Joe Lieberman. Vox:
Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic senator from Connecticut with a complicated history with his political party, has emerged as the frontrunner to replace the now-fired James Comey as FBI director, according to a report from Politico’s Josh Dawsey, Kenneth Vogel, and Michael Crowley.
Lieberman lacks the conventional qualifications for an FBI director, never having served as a law enforcement agent or federal prosecutor. He lacks the kind of administrative experience that one normally looks for in an agency chief. At the age of 75, he’s also very much on the old side for a 10-year appointment. But “Trump bonded with Lieberman” at their meeting on Wednesday, according to Politico, and though personal rapport between the president and the FBI director has not traditionally been considered necessary or even desirable, Trump enjoys breaking with tradition.
Since leaving the Senate, Lieberman has landed as an attorney as Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, whose founding partner Marc Kasowitz happens to be Donald Trump’s lawyer on litigation matters.
For the president to fire the FBI director in an effort to stymie an investigation into his associates, and then replace him with an unqualified successor who happens to be an employee of his personal lawyer, seems a wee bit fishy to me; indeed, Politico quotes a senior Democratic aide as saying it “could be an issue for Democrats.” Another issue for Lieberman will be that grassroots progressive activists hate his guts and have for years.
But Lieberman has always been well-liked by his Senate colleagues, and if Trump nominates him, that may be enough to get him confirmed with a decent veneer of bipartisanship even in these turbulent times.
Indeed, when asked by a reporter about Democrats who might oppose Lieberman, his good friend Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said: “Joe Lieberman has more experience than any of my Democrat colleagues combined — so screw them.”
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