In an effort to push back against the special investigation into Russia's attempts to interfere in the 2016 election, President Donald Trump's top surrogates appear to be reaching back to the 1990s for communications advice.
In an interview with Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich demonstrated the White House's new strategy by condemning Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the Department of Justice, for inappropriately expanding the scope of his investigation.
"I think it's very reasonable to say that this is a very dangerous witch hunt that Mueller keeps expanding it because he can't find anything in the original charge," Gingrich said.
Gingrich also claimed that Mueller was a partisan Democrat.
"The Mueller investigation has so many conflicts of interest, it's almost an absurdity," he said. "The law firm he comes from gave 99.81 percent of its donations to Hillary Clinton last year.
To people who followed politics during the 1990s, those arguments might sound familiar. That's because they were the exact same ones that were deployed by the Clinton administration during its battles with independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Claiming that Starr was biased and had inappropriately expanded his inquiry was a staple of the Clinton White House's rhetoric.
Starr had been hired to look into allegations that Bill and Hillary Clinton had illegally forced an Arkansas banker to provide a loan to a real estate developer while Bill was governor of Arkansas. The scope of Starr's investigation eventually grew to include an inquiry into whether Clinton had had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
In the case of Trump, however, the allegations that Mueller is overreaching rings a bit hollow given that the special prosecutor's team is restricting its newer inquiries to business dealings by the president and former Trump campaign associates. As Bloomberg News reported on Thursday:
FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.
The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
That latter line of inquiry makes sense considering that Manafort spent many decades involved in the politics of the former Soviet Union. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Manafort's business had accumulated millions of dollars in debt to a Russian billionaire in connection with a failed cable television investment in Ukraine. Manafort's former partner, Oleg Deripaska, sued him in an American court in 2015 for the money.
The discussion of Trump's dealings with the Miss Universe pageant and Russia are also likewise pertinent, since the president's own son has publicly admitted that his now-infamous meeting with a woman he believed to be a Russian government official was initiated by a man he had met while in Moscow for the pageant. Trump Jr. was lured by the promise of obtaining negative information about Hillary Clinton for use against her during the 2016 presidential campaign, and Manafort was also present for the meeting.
Gingrich is far from the only Trump-connected surrogate to make allegations of impropriety against Mueller. On Friday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and Rep. Chris Collins, R.-NY, also laid into the special counsel.
"He should let go of some of the business things,” Collins said during an interview with CNN, referring to Mueller.
The GOP congressman also claimed that Trump was not subject to regular conflict-of-interest rules since he is the president.
“Let’s face it — the president is not subject to the normal ethics issues when it comes to business.”