Politics

Trump Lashes Out at Mueller Ahead of Potentially Damaging Court Filings

Special counsel, federal prosecutors set to release documents on Manafort, Cohen

President Donald Trump lashed out at special counsel Robert S. Mueller III just hours before he is slated to show some cards in his Russia probe that could damage the president. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 8:55 a.m. | President Donald Trump launched what amounted to a preemptive strike in his fight to shape public opinion about Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe just hours before the special counsel is expected to release telling documents about his findings.

Trump's approval rating is back around 40 percent and could take a further hit when the documents are released if they show Mueller and other federal prosecutors are turning their sights on him. Legal experts have said in recent days that as more and more evidence comes out in official documents, the more it appears Mueller and others are looking hard at “Individual 1,” legal parlance they say clearly refers to Trump.

Mueller is expected to recommend a sentence for Trump's former “fixer” and personal attorney, Michael Cohen, which will require him to reveal why he is asking for a specific sentence ahead of a federal judge’s Tuesday final ruling. The special counsel also will explain to another judge why he is accusing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort with blowing up the plea deal he struck with prosecutors by lying to investigators.

And in a separate case from Mueller’s, federal prosecutors in New York are expected to file a sentencing memo explaining Cohen’s help with their probe.

Trump has complained publicly that Manafort is being treated unfairly, and Cohen’s cooperation with Mueller and other prosecutors which reportedly has left him agitated and downtrodden. For instance, the president was noticeably sullen during a G-20 summit last weekend in Argentina.

Before 7 a.m. Friday, Trump was in the White House residence attacking Mueller on Twitter.

In a remarkable set of social media posts, the president alleged Mueller has “big time conflicts of interest” and wondered aloud whether they will be “listed at the top of his Republicans only Report.” Trump was referring to the final report the former FBI director is expected to release once his probe is complete.

Later in the morning, minutes before he was scheduled to leave for Kansas City to address a law enforcement conference, the president tried to knock down media reports that his personal legal team had dropped plans to issue their own report to counter Muellers. He called those reports "Fake News," claiming the counter-report already has 87 pages "done."

Trump also compared the Mueller probe to the Justice Department’s conviction of Arthur Andersen for its decision to destroy Enron accounting documents as that former energy giant was melting down. He singled out Andrew Weissman, who played a key role in Justice’s probe of Andersen, and now is a major player on Mueller’s team.

“Will Andrew Weissman’s horrible and vicious prosecutorial past be listed in the Report. He wrongly destroyed people’s lives, took down great companies, only to be.............overturned, 9-0, in the United States Supreme Court. Doing same thing to people now,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets.

The high court did indeed rule against the Justice Department, but not on the merits of Andersen’s decision — the justices unanimously found a judge’s instructions to a jury failed to require adequate proof of the firm’s intent. Legal experts said at the time that the justices did not resolve whether Andersen acting with criminal intent, according to reports.

On Thursday night, at a White House Hanukkah reception in the ornate East Room, Trump singled out Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was spotted having a glass of wine and talking to guests. “Thank you, Rod,” the president said. He changed his tune by Friday morning.

The president, eager to undermine the Mueller probe and those overseeing it, pointed to a memo Rosenstein crafted that was used by Trump to try justifying his decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey as proof Rosenstein should not have been overseeing the Mueller investigation. (Comey has been interviewed by the special counsel.)

“Will the scathing document written about Lyin’ James Comey, by the man in charge of the case, Rod Rosenstein (who also signed the FISA Warrant), be a big part of the Report?” Trump tweeted. “Isn’t Rod therefore totally conflicted?”

By painting the deputy AG as too conflicted to continue overseeing the probe, Trump could be angling to have oversight of the investigation moved to his handpicked acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker.

House Democrats already are promising to summon Whitaker to testify about what promises he might — or might not — have made before agreeing to replace fired AG Jeff Sessions, who angered Trump by recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Trump pressuring Rosenstein to step aside from the probe would only intensify those House investigations.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and several Democratic committee leaders wrote the Justice Department’s chief ethics official, Assistant Attorney General Lee J. Lofthus, on Thursday reiterating a Nov. 11 request that the department “immediately notify us in writing as to whether you or any other ethics officials at the Department of Justice have advised Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to recuse himself from the Special Counsel investigation, and that you provide to us all ethics guidance Mr. Whitaker has been given to date.”

“It is our understanding that, 14 months after Mr. Whitaker joined the department, his ethics review is still incomplete,” the senior Democrats wrote. “The department has offered no public explanation for this extraordinary delay, nor have we received any reply to our letter. This is unacceptable.”

Pelosi on NC-09, Sage Grouse in Spotlight and CR-unch Time: Thursday in Washington

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