By next week, Robert Mueller will surely have received his own slanderous nickname as Donald Trump brands him the dirty scoundrel who spearheaded the failed “coup” against his presidency. Trump started his offensive Thursday morning with a meager swipe at the “highly conflicted” Mueller, but he quickly labeled Mueller a “true never Trumper,” and by midday Trump was recounting his favorite fantasy that Mueller wanted to be his FBI director. “I told him NO,” Trump wrote. It’s only going to get worse now that Mueller has broken his silence, choosing to specifically emphasize the fact that his report in no way exonerated Trump and, in fact, that Mueller had been handcuffed by Justice Department policy and prevented from indicting Trump.
Following Mueller’s eight-minute red alert to America and Congress, conservative talkers actually struggled to square Mueller’s not-so-revelatory revelations with the lies Trump and Attorney General William Barr have been spewing about his final report. Their overwhelming dismay at Mueller’s truths—repeated almost verbatim from the report—highlights the bind Trump is in after touting Mueller’s findings for months and going so far as to say that Mueller had acted honorably.
Following Mueller’s televised statement, Trump’s PR flacks at Fox News circled the wagons to quickly declare that Mueller had “ended his career in total disgrace” and that his “testimony is irrelevant.” In the coming days, Trump’s attacks will surely sharpen as he seeks to knock Mueller off the public-opinion pedestal he has been occupying.
Before yesterday, Mueller came damn close to being the current most trusted figure in American politics, as poll after poll demonstrated. A Monmouth poll released last week showed that 73% of Americans want him to testify before Congress (58% at a public hearing, 14% say closed-door). Given the choice between whom voters trust to level with them about Russia’s attack on our elections, Mueller or Barr, voters choose Mueller by 20 points, 48%-28%, according to Civiqs polling from mid-May. And in early May, 72% of voters said Mueller conducted a fair investigation, including 65% of Republicans, according to Quinnipiac polling.
Trump needs to tank Mueller’s numbers, and fast. Mueller’s assertion that he’s said everything he has to say and hopes not to speak publicly about the Russia matter again makes him an even more perfect witness for Congress, especially now that he’s no longer beholden to the Justice Department. So expect a vile onslaught from Trump. Mueller’s testimony could be lethal, even if he does nothing more than simply repeat all the wrongdoing his investigation turned up.