Today marks the one-year anniversary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment to investigate a possible connection between the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 election. So far, the investigation has yielded eight indictments against 22 individuals and businesses. Campaign aide Rick Gates, former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Michael Flynn have all pled guilty to charges stemming from the investigation. Though he has pled not guilty, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been indicted for a vast array of financial crimes. But despite the criminality surrounding his campaign, Donald Trump is still president of the United States, and on Thursday morning he took to Twitter to "celebrate."
Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History...and there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction. The only Collusion was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an Election despite the spending of far more money!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018
Trump sort-of-lawyer Rudy Giuliani took the opportunity to go on Fox News and gloat about how Mueller's investigators told Trump's legal team that the special counsel could not indict the president (which is basically true). Giuliani also reiterated his steadfast belief that Mueller would also not be able to subpoena the president (which is debatable). "If we’re in for a long investigation, we’ll fight every single thing," Giuliani, eyes bulging, said. "If you’re innocent, you’ve got to fight back, and the president is completely innocent." He capped it off with the refrain that the investigation is "a damn witch hunt."
Though Trump and his legal team seem confident they can withstand any punches Mueller may try to throw at them, as long as the investigation continues, so too will the dogged effort to discredit it. On Thursday morning, Team Witch Hunt seized on a detail from a New York Times piece about the investigation's origins. According to officials interviewed by the Times, "at least one government informant met several times" with Trump advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos prior to the election. Because of their ties to Russia, Page and Papadopoulos – along with Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn – were being investigated as the FBI sought to determine whether Trump's campaign was colluding with Russia. The investigation, dubbed Crossfire Hurricane, was set off after the FBI learned that a "wine-fueled" Papadopoulos indicated to an Australian ambassador that the campaign had knowledge of Russian meddling before it occurred. This was deemed significant.
The Times piece goes on to note how the informant or informants meeting with Page and Papadopolous has become "a politically contentious point, with Mr. Trump’s allies questioning whether the F.B.I. was spying on the Trump campaign or trying to entrap campaign officials."
Fox News and Trump's team took this as an invitation to question the FBI further, and with more vehemence. Giuliani called it "the biggest scandal in the history of this town" and said that it could "challenge the legitimacy of the entire investigation." He also said that "it would suggest they were out to frame him," a claim which asks the word "suggest" to do an undue amount of heavy lifting.
Trump followed Giuliani's lead, tweeting that it could be "bigger than Watergate!"
Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI “SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.” Andrew McCarthy says, “There’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.” If so, this is bigger than Watergate!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018
In the Fox News segment to which Trump is referring, McCarthy claims that because this was a counterintelligence investigation, they shouldn’t have been looking into the Trump campaign, as there was no hard evidence of collusion. Instead, he argues, they should have investigated Russia. But investigating counterintelligence is part of what the FBI does, especially if it has led agents to believe a presidential campaign may have knowledge that a foreign adversary is meddling in the election. Take it from Marco Rubio, who reviewed the case as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "There was a growing body of evidence that a foreign government was attempting to interfere in both the process and the debate surrounding our elections, and their job is to investigate counterintelligence," he said. "That’s what they did."
.@AndrewCMcCarthy: "What happened here is they did not have a criminal predicate to open an investigation on Trump as they had an immense criminal predicate to conduct the investigation of Mrs. Clinton." pic.twitter.com/ggv7JRgNgI— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 17, 2018
The Times piece bring up several questions about the how the investigation was conducted. The FBI had just wrapped up the case on Hillary Clinton's emails, and James Comey and company wanted to make sure their investigation into Trump's campaign didn't leak to the press, as they were worried it would lend credence to Trump's claims that the election was rigged. When many officials began to sense that Trump likely would not win the election, they pumped the brakes even more. Officials interviewed by the Times agree the FBI could have been more aggressive.
"There is always a high degree of caution before taking overt steps in a counterintelligence investigation," Mary McCord, a Justice Department veteran who served as a top national security prosecutor during much of the first nine months of the investigation, told the Times. "And that could have worked to the president’s benefit here." McCord added that she "never saw anything that resembled a witch hunt or suggested that the bureau’s approach to the investigation was politically driven."
The actual biggest instance of the FBI breaking with tradition prior to the election came on October 28th, when Comey sent a letter to Congress about the existence emails that could be pertinent to the Clinton investigation. They, of course, turned out not to be pertinent, and Clinton went on to lose the election. By contrast, the Times notes that the FBI "hewed closely to the rules" while investigating the Trump campaign.
This is all irrelevant to Giuliani and Trump, who will likely never cease to claim to cry foul. After Trump's Thursday morning tweet about the "Obama FBI" alleged spying practices, the president's Twitter feed returned to its regularly scheduled programming.
Despite the disgusting, illegal and unwarranted Witch Hunt, we have had the most successful first 17 month Administration in U.S. history - by far! Sorry to the Fake News Media and “Haters,” but that’s the way it is!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018
Happy birthday, Witch Hunt.