This is the second half of our re-cap series covering developments in the ongoing Russian election interference investigation since early May. Next week we’ll cover the Helsinki Summit and what it means for the investigation moving forward.
June began in familiar fashion with the president taking to twitter to defend himself from various allegations. Former CIA Director John Brennan appeared on MSNBC on June 1st. “I think that he is afraid of the President of Russia,” Brennan stated in the interview, adding that “The Russians could have something on him personally that they could always roll out to make his life more difficult.” Brennan believes the Russians “have had long experience with Mr. Trump,” Trump would later be criticized after the Helsinki summit in July for his warm attitude towards Russian President Vladimir Putin (more on this next post).
The president defended himself on twitter the following day tweeting that “John Brennan, no single figure in American history has done more to discredit the intelligence community than this liar,” and speaking of the investigation more broadly he tweeted “$17 million spent, it’s a scam investigation. Americans are being worked. We know there was Russian collusion, with Russians and the Democrats.” The President has not been shy about trying to discredit the Mueller investigations. He took to twitter the day before, citing an A.P. report that “the Russian Hoax Investigation has now cost our government over $17 million, and going up fast.” In May, the President used twitter to coin the hashtag #spygate in reference to what he claims was an effort by the Obama administration to plant spies within the Trump campaign in a purported effort to derail his presidential campaign. This, in conjunction with repeated insistence that the Russians colluded not with his campaign, but with the Democrats to undermine his election bid would suggest a strategy on the part of the President to divert public attention or “flip-flop” the blame onto Democrats.
In another bizarre twitter episode on June 4th, President Trump asserted his authority to pardon himself. “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?” This tweet came on the heels of Rudy Giuliani’s appearance on ABC’s “This Week” in which he suggested that Trump likely does have the ability to do this. However, it should be noted that Giuliani also said the president “has no intention of pardoning himself,” and called such a move “unthinkable.”
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former Campaign Manager,had additional charges pressed against him by Special counsel Mueller’s grand jury. Manafort is charged with obstruction of justice in that he allegedly conspired to “sway the testimony of two potential witnesses who might offer evidence against Manafort.” Based on these charges, Judge Amy Berman Jackson revoked his bail and ordered that he remain in jail prior to his trail. Manafort had originally posted $10 million bond and was placed under house arrest awaiting trial for money laundering and other charges. Both president Trump and Rudy Giuliani wasted no time in defending Manafort. Trump tweeted “Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort, who has represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and many other top political people and campaigns. Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the Mob. What about Comey and Crooked Hillary and all the others? Very unfair!”
Giuliani disagreed with the decision. “I don’t understand the justification for putting him in jail,” Giuliani told NY Daily News, “You put a guy in jail if he’s trying to kill a witness, not just talking to witnesses.” He then re-asserted what he’d said back in May, calling for an investigation into Mueller’s investigation. “It’s time for Justice to investigate the investigators.” What’s more, Giuliani insinuated the President may pardon Manafort if he is convicted. “When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons.”Giuliani later walked back his comments telling ABC that “[Trump] is not considering [pardoning Manafort] and he will not even entertainthinking about it until after the investigation has been completed.” From the beginning, Giuliani has taken a hostile stance to the Mueller investigation.
The Justice Department Inspector General Report was released in mid-June, with significant impact. Analysis of the report provides plenty of incendiary material for both sides as each tries to discredit the other. The Report concluded that “We found no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations; rather, we determined that they were based on the prosecutors’ assessment of the facts, the law, and past department practice.” However, the report did find that individuals within the FBI harboured an anti-Trump bias, chiefly through the text message exchanges between attorney Lisa Page and agent Peter Strzok. Rudy Giuliani told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that “Strzok should be in jail by the end of next week.” He also said that Deputy AG Rosenstein and AG Sessions “should suspend [Mueller’s] investigation, throw out all the people that have been involved in the phony Trump investigation, and bring in honest FBI agents from the New York office, who I can trust implicitly.” Page has since retired, and Strzok has been fired. Strzok, however, would like to tell his story.
House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) invited Strzok to appear before the committee. Trump later tweeted that “The hearing of Peter Strzok and the other hating frauds at the FBI & DOJ should be shown to the public on live television, not a closed door hearing that nobody will see. We should expose these people for what they are – there should be total transparency!” Strzok did testify before the house committee on July 12th. He told the committee “Let me be clear, unequivocally and under oath: Not once in my 26 years of defending my nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took,”
Additionally, House Intelligence Committee former Chairman Devin Nunes sent additional demands to the Justice Department requesting information on “contacts” between FBI intelligence sources and Trump campaign associates. Nunes has been highly critical of the investigation since its inception. Nunes, along with Trey Gowdy (R-SC)and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) originally demanded unredacted copies of written conversations between former FBI director James Comey and President Trump. A federal judge ordered these remain secret in February. The Justice Department has since maintained that it has complied with Nunes’ requests to the extent that is legally permissible.
It would seem that the fallout from the IG report has only widened the gulf between supporters and opponents of the investigations. Each side has dug in further, with Rudy Giuliani leading the charge against Mueller.