Is President Donald Trump trying to suck up to the man whose investigation could lead to criminal charges against him? After threatening the man leading a special investigation into possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia, the president now says he appreciates the work he’s doing.
In a sudden about-face, Trump has sent a warm message of “appreciation” to FBI special counsel Robert Mueller, who stepped down from his lucrative position at a Boston-based law firm to take on the role of investigating whether Russians colluded with the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential race.
Trump's chief counsel, John Dowd, told USA Today on Monday the president “appreciates what Bob Mueller is doing” and that Trump asked him “to share that” with Mueller.
The former FBI director has recently expanded his inquiry to include Trump’s past business transactions, which is something the president said last month would be crossing a “red line,” raising questions about whether the president would attempt to oust the special counsel.
Instead of backing down, however, Mueller doubled down.
Earlier this month the special counsel impaneled a grand jury, a move that implies Mueller believes he has compelling evidence of wrongdoing.
Now it seems the president is on a charm offensive.
“They’ve obviously taken the position that the best defense now is to cooperate,” former federal prosecutor and FBI agent Ron Woods told USA Today. “There is nothing wrong with Dowd talking to Mueller.”
Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney who was fired by Trump in March, was more critical of the president’s strategy. He accused the president of using surrogates like former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich to publicly undermine Mueller’s investigation. (Gingrich has accused Mueller of setting up a grand jury that would hold biases against the president.)
The president’s recent criticisms of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of Trump’s earliest supporters in his presidential race, were viewed by many as an attempt to force Sessions to resign in order to disrupt the Mueller inquiry. Sessions angered the president when he recused himself from the Russia investigation in March after failing to disclose meetings he had last year with Russian officials. Neither Trump nor Sessions can fire Mueller, but the president can replace Sessions with an attorney general who could.
Senators from both parties recently introduced legislation that would bar the president from ousting Mueller without judicial review. Last month, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been one of the few Republican lawmakers willing to be openly critical of the president, issued a stern warning that firing Mueller would be the “beginning of the end” of the Trump presidency.