Donald Trump responded to questions on Sunday saying he had no intention to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But while Trump was making this statement, both his team inside and outside the White House and Republicans in Congress continued to beat the drums for Mueller’s dismissal.
The president’s comments came a day after a lawyer representing Trump’s transition team accused Mueller of wrongfully obtaining thousands of emails sent and received by Trump officials before the start of his administration — a legal and public relations maneuver seen as possibly laying the groundwork to oust the special counsel.
The revelation that Mueller has obtained a large number of emails issued during the transition period had clearly sent Trump’s team scrambling. It’s not just that Mueller had this material now, but that he seems to have obtained it weeks ago, meaning that recent questioning of everyone from Jared Kushner to Hope Hicks may have been responding to questions for which Mueller already had the answers in hand. Considering that half the people Mueller has already indicted were convicted for lying, that has to have everyone in the White House carefully reviewing their time with the special counsel.
The Republican play on Mueller’s acquisition of the emails is that it is “illegal”—a charge made without bothering to state just what law might have been broken. On Sunday, Trump joined in the vague grumbling.
Trump criticized Mueller for gaining access to those emails, telling reporters the situation was “not looking good.”
But the letter from Trump’s lawyer and additional charges of partisanship by Mueller’s team, was enough to generate a rare statement from Mueller’s spokesman, Peter Carr.
“When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process.”
Mueller’s gathering up the transition emails is giving Donald Trump a sad.
“It’s quite sad to see that,” Trump said. “My people were very upset about it.”
The potential for additional indictments over lying under oath gives Mueller even more leverage in his efforts to collect testimony directly concerning Trump … but Trump is maintaining an attitude of reduced concern.
Trump has spent much of his first year in office so enraged by the federal investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election that lawmakers who work with him tried to avoid the issue entirely and his friends worried that Trump might rashly fire the special counsel. But in recent weeks, Trump has privately seemed less frustrated about the investigation, according to multiple sources who have spoken with the President.
Trump has been telling people that he expects to soon be cleared “in writing,” and keeps insisting that Mueller’s investigation will soon be over.
“The President’s mantra is ‘All this Russia stuff, it’s all going to wrap up soon.’ He repeats it as fact,” said one source who speaks to Trump. “Part of me is like — ‘Are you serious? You believe this?'”
But there’s no indication that the special counsel is running out of either witnesses or information. Just eight months in, Mueller’s investigation is a less than a quarter of the length of the average special counsel or special prosecutor investigation, and less than a tenth of investigations like Iran/Contra or Whitewater. It could easily proceed through the length of Trump’s time in office—whether or not that time is shortened.
For the investigation to end anytime soon, as Trump indicates, it will likely be because Trump and the Republicans step in to halt the process before it can complete. But while others are working to tear down Mueller’s reputation and attack the integrity of the investigation, Trump himself seems to be spending time in fantasyland.
Three sources familiar with the President’s recent conversations about the investigation said Trump has become convinced that he will receive a letter of exoneration, which would be unusual. One source worried Trump would have a “meltdown” if that doesn’t happen.
Maybe he expects that letter to come with the signature of Jefferson Sessions. Or new special counsel Sean Hannity. And maybe they’ll also give him a gold star.