The State of Trump’s Anti-Mueller Strategy

As I laid out last week, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

I thought it’d be useful to summarize Trump’s many-fronted attack on the Mueller investigation today.

Forthcoming Peter Strzok testimony

As part of the GOP obstruction efforts, the House Judiciary Committee will have Peter Strzok for a public hearing Thursday, without (at least thus far) providing him with a transcript of his 11-hour testimony before the committee two weeks ago.

In his increasingly frequent rants about the Witch Hunt, Trump continues to focus on Strzok’s role.

Incidentally, I made some initial outreach to do an informal briefing with some Republican members of Congress about what I know about the election year tampering, but learned the committees were too busy with Strzok and related issues to hear from me.

Leak of two anti-Comey letters

Yesterday, a Saturday, the AP published two anti-Comey letters sent by the Trump team:

  • A June 27, 2017 screed from Marc Kasowitz delivered by hand to Robert Mueller, spinning Jim Comey’s descriptions of his own actions as inaccurate and Machiavellian
  • A September 1, 2017 letter from John Dowd to Rod Rosenstein complaining that there was no grand jury investigation into Comey’s behavior, the closure of the Hillary email investigation, and (vaguely) the Clinton Foundation

The AP claims that,

The 13-page document provides a window into the formation of a legal strategy that remains in use today by Trump’s lawyers — to discredit Comey’s value as a witness. It could have new relevance in the aftermath of a Justice Department inspector general report that criticized Comey for departing from protocol in the Clinton investigation.

The AP did not include Rudy Giuliani (among others, including Trump himself) in the list of those it reached out to for comment.

Lawyers for Comey declined to comment Saturday, as did Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller. Kasowitz and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow did not return messages, and former Trump attorney John Dowd declined to comment.

The NYT’s continued parroting of Trump’s shitty legal team’s understanding of the case

Meanwhile, the Mike and Maggie team at NYT continues its practice of writing stories that claim to track a grand new Trump legal strategy, but along the way mostly maps out either Trump spin emphasizing obstruction or just outright misunderstanding of the case against the President. In the most recent installment, Mike and Maggie claim the obviously consistent half year strategy of inventing excuses not to do an interview is a new one.

President Trump’s lawyers set new conditions on Friday on an interview with the special counsel and said that the chances that the president would be voluntarily questioned were growing increasingly unlikely.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, needs to prove before Mr. Trump would agree to an interview that he has evidence that Mr. Trump committed a crime and that his testimony is essential to completing the investigation, said Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lead lawyer in the case.

At one point, they even claim that the raid against Michael Cohen — as opposed to the mounting evidence that Mueller was examining Trump’s role in “collusion,” not just obstruction — that led Trump to take a more aggressive stance.

But in April, Mr. Trump concluded that Mr. Mueller and Justice Department officials were determined to find wrongdoing after federal investigators in New York, acting on a referral from the special counsel, raided the office, hotel room and home of Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen.

The most curious aspect of the story is Rudy’s claim that if Mueller — who as early as March was asking around 13 questions about “collusion” — could show real evidence, then Trump would be willing to sit for an interview.

“If they can come to us and show us the basis and that it’s legitimate and that they have uncovered something, we can go from there and assess their objectivity,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview. He urged the special counsel to wrap up his inquiry and write an investigative report. He said Mr. Trump’s lawyers planned to write their own summary of the case.

This is an area where NYT could have laid out the evidence that implicates Trump personally, to show how silly this line is.

After that article, Schmidt weighed in twice more on Twitter, asserting that because Mueller told Trump’s team he needed to question the President for obstruction earlier this year, that remains true.

Mueller told Trump’s lawyers earlier this year that he needed to question the president to know whether he had criminal intent on obstruction issues. Hard to believe Mueller doesn’t try and do everything in his power to get Trump to answer those questions.

Schmidt also posted Dowd’s self-congratulation for his own strategy cooperating long enough to support the defense team’s current position that Mueller would have to show strong evidence of a crime to be able to subpoena the president to testify.

Giuliani’s hat trick of Sunday shows

In what must be the result of aggressive White House outreach, Rudy Giuliani appeared on several outlets this morning, following up on the NYT piece. On ABC, he nuanced his claim about whether Trump would sit for an interview, saying not that Mueller would have to show evidence of a crime, but that he’d have to show “a factual basis” for an investigation into Trump.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Robert Mueller. The New York Times reported that President Trump won’t agree to an interview with Robert Mueller unless Mueller first proves he has evidence that President Trump committed a crime.

That was based on an interview with you. Is that the current condition?

GIULIANI: Yes, but I have to modify that a bit, look at my quote. My quote is not evidence of a crime, it’s a factual basis for the investigation. We’ve been through everything on collusion and obstruction.

We can’t find an incriminating anything, and we need a basis for this investigation, particularly since we now know it was started from (ph) biased — by biased —

STEPHANOPOULOS: We have James Comey’s testimony.

GIULIANI: Well Comey’s testimony is hardly worth anything. And — nor — nor did he ever — James Comey had — never found any evidence of collusion. And rules out obstruction by saying the president had a right to fire me. So all the rest of it is just politics. I mean, the — the — the reality is Comey, in some ways, ends up being a good witness for us.

Unless you assume they’re trying to get him into a perjury trap by (ph) he tells his version, somebody else has a different version.

Rudy went a bit further on CNN, claiming to be certain there’s no reason for the investigation because his team has debriefed all of Mueller’s witnesses (who, according to Rudy, are all part of the joint defense agreement).

BASH: Thank you.

And these new terms, particularly that Robert Mueller must show proof of Trump wrongdoing to agree to an interview, you actually have said that you don’t think that Mueller would even agree to it. So why do this dance? Why not just tell the special counsel, sorry, no interview?

GIULIANI: Well, we’d like to know if there is any factual basis for the investigation originally or they have developed one, because we can’t find one, nor can anyone else, nor have they, with all the leaking they have done, even leaked one, which I think would have happened immediately, because they want to justify themselves.

The fact is, I should correct it. I didn’t say they have to prove a crime.

BASH: Right.

GIULIANI: What I said was, they have to give us a factual basis, meaning some suspicion of a crime.

For example, I can’t initiate an investigation of my neighbor just because I don’t like him or just he’s politically different from me.


BASH: … that there is no evidence — you say that the special counsel hasn’t produced evidence.

But they haven’t said that they have no evidence. They have — you say that there have been leaks. They have been remarkably tight- lipped, aside from what they have had to do with indictments and such.

GIULIANI: No, they haven’t. They leaked reports. They leaked reports. They leaked meetings. They’re leaking on Manafort right now. They leaked Cohen before it happened.

BASH: But this is an ongoing investigation. We don’t really know what they have and what they don’t have. That’s fair, right?

GIULIANI: Well, I have a pretty good idea because I have seen all the documents that they have. We have debriefed all their witnesses. And we have pressed them numerous times.

BASH: You have debriefed all of their witnesses?

GIULIANI: Well, I think so, I mean, the ones that were — the ones that were involved in the joint defense agreement, which constitutes all the critical ones.

Rudy said much the same on NBC — the most interesting part of that interview is Chuck Todd’s questions about why Trump would meet with Putin while being under investigation for colluding with him.

Central to all three of these interviews is the notion that because Michael Horowitz found that Jim Comey acted improperly in the Hillary investigation, Trump can’t be investigated for anything to do with him — the same story told implausibly in those two leaked letters.

The Trump team went to great lengths to spend their limited Sunday Morning political capital on rolling this out as a purportedly new Mueller strategy.

26 replies
  1. Rapier says:

    This NY Times story disappeared pretty fast from the top of the page, online addition. I couldn’t find it at all with a pretty close scan at 6:30 EST. I probably just am missing it. I had just come here after seeing the headline and header of the story. The article behind the paywall. Now it’s gone or buried. It may have been a top story most of the day so its shelf life expired.

    Still, narrative set.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Old wine, new bottles. Wonder who leaked those letters from Trump’s lawyers? Mueller’s team has been as watertight as an Amsterdam canal.

    Many thanks for all that work. Schmidt and Haberman continue to amaze. Neither is credulous, but their writing suggests they think their readers are impossibly so.

    Their pieces are so well-timed with the Trump regime’s Sunday outreach, it almost looks like a coordinated effort. It’s as if the Times is taunting Mueller for not leaking.

    We’ll make the best story we can out of whatever is available, they seem to say. If that’s all from Trump, that’s all we’ll cover. Charming idea, except it ignores that the Times is committed to access journalism, which means it tells the story from the perspective of the side that gives them access.

    The idea that any lawyer would recommend Trump have a voluntary sit-down with Bob Mueller is laughable. It doesn’t matter what information Mueller might disclose. He won’t sit for an interview unless subpoenaed, and he would fight that to the Supremes. The information might help Trump, but it won’t change his mind about not talking with Mueller.

    Trump and Rudy are working hard to make the irascible, changeable, stubborn Trump look reasonable. That’s quite a magic trick.

    • emptywheel says:

      I guess my problem is they trust the judgment of Trump’s lawyers, which is clearly wishful thinking.

      • CaliLawyer says:

        It’s abundently clear that everyone around Trump knows that there is no way for him to speak to Mueller without perjuring/incriminating himself. This is remarkable to say about a US president but this is the depth to which we’ve sunk. They keep using the word trap as if anyone speaking to the FBI is inevitably trapped, and they’ve leaned into this to discredit the Flynn flip. As an attorney, I can tell you that no attorney would counsel a client to plead if a statement can be readily explained away. Furthermore, clients can generally make limited corrections to transcripts to clear up mistakes and understandable errors, though that can be brought up at trial. This delay to discredit tactic is about as clear an admission of guilt as can be had without an actual plea from Trump. Note that Kavanaugh has argued against presidential investigations. Surely the president’s lawyers are aware that Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction was alleged against Nixon but he was never impeached for it. NY Mag had a worthy overview of l’affaire Russe today.

    • mister bunny says:

      Yes, “Old wine, new bottles,” when what we need is to put some new wine in their old wineskins. 

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Good column from the WaPo’s Margaret Sullivan about Marcy’s revelation that she felt compelled to report a source to the FBI.  Favorably covers the conflicting issues, and that only Marcy could know if her decision was correct.  It respects her choice.

    Everyone suffers from incomplete information when making hard decisions.  From Marcy’s perspective, she revealed a source that was lying to her, compromised her work and her website, and threatened to compromise the interests of the United States.  Unlike Mr. Trump, she made the correct call, consistent with her responsibilities as a journalist.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Katrina vanden Heuvel, heiress, publisher of the Nation, and establishment member of the Council on Foreign Relations, thinks we need to know more and have a broader debate.  A good idea.  Imagine if the same judgment Marcy used applied to access journalists.  Maggie H. might have to look for another line of work.

      I have a small bone to pick, however, with the way Sullivan’s piece is being marketed.  The teaser is that Marcy broke a cardinal rule of journalism – protect a source – here’s why….

      My problem is this.  If Marcy reasonably believed her source was doing what she understood it to be doing, she did Not break a cardinal rule of journalism or citizenship.  She applied it correctly.

    • Bob Conyers says:

      I think it would have been worthwhile for Sullivan to point out that The Post prominently revealed a source in the past year — the James O’Keefe flunky who tried to peddle fake Roy Moore info.

      I think the context would have strengthened the point that a promise of anonymity isn’t absolute, and there are times when that promise needs to be reconsidered. And quite frankly, I think the press is overdue for another round of questioning, especially the NY Times.

      • emptywheel says:

        There’s a difference between outing a source and reporting one to the FBI.

        Virtually all the interesting stuff I knew abt this person (as much from observation as what he told me) is protected by no confidentiality agreement. The “off the record” text was a rarity for us, and I didn’t agree to it (as is clear). But simply reporting it out wasn’t a good option at the time.

        • Bob Conyers says:

          Yeah, I agree the Post’s James O’Keefe outing was a different beast.  I just feel that when Sullivan begins her piece “It’s pretty much an inviolable rule of journalism: Protect your sources” that it’s helpful for her to bring up the Post’s recent history of turning on a source.

          I think the Post made the right call, even though the reasons were different. But they did make the call, it wasn’t a trivial matter, and I hope that it made at least a few people think twice before pushing lies to the media for malicious reasons.

      • Rusharuse says:

        Wonder if the “source” has noticeably changed behaviour (one way or t’other) since seeing his words published on this site?

  4. ANZAC Friend says:

    I read all the comments in WaPo story too. Dismaying that some can’t see the wood for the trees. But this cheered me up (quote Benski): “Reporters rarely give up their sources to law enforcement,.. but then again, presidential campaigns never criminally conspire with a foreign nation to subvert an American election.” Please keep up the fantastic work MW.

    I would suspect this is the exception that makes the rule.

  5. ANZAC Friend says:

    I read all the comments in WaPo story too. Dismaying that some can’t see the wood for the trees. But this cheered me up (quote Benski): “Reporters rarely give up their sources to law enforcement,.. but then again, presidential campaigns never criminally conspire with a foreign nation to subvert an American election. I would suspect this is the exception that makes the rule”

    Please keep up the fantastic work MW.

  6. cfost says:

    “I’m making this public now because a David Ignatius report Thursday maps out an imminent deal with Russia and Israel that sounds like what was described to me within hours of the election. This deal appears to be the culmination of an effort that those involved in the Russian attack worked to implement within hours after the election.” -from your post.
    This deal between Israel and Russia, and the fact that your source had been working on it long enough for the Trump transition to act on it within hours of the election, suggests to me that it was high priority and that there were powerful and rich actors supporting it. Flynn, for example, was busy writing articles and taking “payments” during this period. He wasn’t doing that stuff on his own initiative. And Bibi had to be delighted with the election results. Bibi has his own investigations to quash, as do Erdogan and Putin. And Iran is suddenly the bad guy? We knew that already, so what changed? Whomever desired the election of Trump probably had a hand in encouraging Trumps’ subsequent behavior, to wit:
    Antagonizing our only two neighbors, Canada and Mexico.
    Antagonizing our oldest and closest allies in Europe.
    Starting trade wars with anyone and everyone.
    Engaging in naive and unconsidered “negotiations” with North Korea, and then suffering a humiliating
    breakdown of these “negotiations.”
    Exhibiting a juvenile and fawning interest in authoritarian rulers and regimes, while exhibiting a
    disregard and disrespect for laws and norms in democratic regimes, including his own.
    Bullying his opponents and detractors.
    Encouraging Congress (and soon, the SC, I suspect) to abandon their constitutional obligations
    to oversight and independence.
    This is only a partial list, of course, but I wonder: if, in 2016, one wished to isolate the US and drive a wedge between it and it’s allies, could one have hoped for a better outcome? Who else conspired besides Russia?

  7. SpaceLifeForm says:

    The Schmidt tweet.  Check the replies.

    “Mueller told Trump’s lawyers earlier this year that he needed to question the president…”

    [Been saying for a long time that there is no reason for Mueller to even want to talk to trump]

    [Preet Bharara reply]

    “Late to this. I don’t know that Mueller really needs the interview. He will want it for completeness & also appearance of — and actual — fairness. It’s an opportunity for Trump to explain himself. Or lie. Subjects who’ve done nothing criminal are generally helped by coming in.”

    [But check some of the others that replied.  One is of interest to me]

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      I have seen zero evidence that Mueller has had any conversations with *any* trump lawyers (former or current). Anyone?

      The Schmidt assertion is made from whole cloth. It is wishful thinking.

      • bmaz says:

        Sure. There is abundant evidence that Cobb, Dowd and Sekulow met and/or talked to the Mueller shop many times. There is no reason to believe regular communication, of some kind, is not happening.

  8. orionATL says:

    brett kavanaugh served with ken starr  on starr’s independent counsel investigating any and all aspects of bill clinton’s public life that could remotely be justified. kavanaugh had the distinction of investigating whether the clintons’ had had vincent foster killed. how much more  partisan and stupid can you get? 

    i’d guess kavanaugh is trump’s trump card on the supreme court  to protect the president from any office of special counsel’s negative decisions. chiej justice roberts will let him write the decisions should that prove necessary.


    it looks like abortion was not on trump’s mind when he appointed kavanaugh. i’m guessing  that was territory earlier  assigned to neil gorsuch’s whose appointment was trump’ s payback to the rightwing christians.

  9. orionATL says:

    american conservative catholic leaders are hard, cold religious ideologues. they have led the attack on pope francis, the only world leader we have and, amazingly for such a leader, one who speaks sensibly about the environment, about poverty, and about human sexuality.

    their political acolytes have no business being on an american supreme court in such numbers. leonard leo is the highly conservative head of the federalist society which takes credit for placing several such misfits on the supreme court.

  10. orionATL says:

    emptywheel –

    “… Incidentally, I made some initial outreach to do an informal briefing with some Republican members of Congress about what I know about the election year tampering, but learned the committees were too busy with Strzok and related issues to hear from me…. ”

    be wary.  i have said this of christopher steele, i would rather not have to  say it of you:

    i have observed individuals operating solo with what were clearly good motives almost consumed by hives of corrupt individuals whose corruption that individual was exposing with the expectation there would be receptivity among leaders not involved in the corruption.

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