We’ve already seen the outlines of the victim campaign that Trump is using, and will be through 2020. It’s hit the rally circuit as the “investigate the investigators” campaign.
Indeed, Trump has changed his mind and opposes having Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, even testify about his report before Congress. Apart from the fact that this counters previous statements, the weirdest part is the idea that the Mueller Report is factual if it favors the president and false or misleading if it doesn’t.
Through his lawyer and spokesman-like Rudy Giuliani, through the actions of Attorney General William P. Barr and now Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and his own voluminous tweet-and-speak file, Trump is attempting to play a victim card from the Mueller Report.
Not only were there no criminal charges, but we apparently need to revisit every action of the FBI and intelligence agencies, prosecutors and judges in unfairly targeting the Trump campaign as a locus for bad behavior.
It’s a clever device — blame the policing agencies — rather than owning up to the vast number of acts and contacts with Russian operatives or attempts at obstruction of justice that came very close to criminal charges and largely avoided because Department of Justice tradition exempts the sitting president from prosecution.
Trump the victim
Instead, everything unearthed by Mueller should be re-examined in light of claims of unwarranted “spying” on the campaign, “inaction” against Russian interference by the Obama administration, “unwarranted” FISA approvals for FBI surveillance of four Trump associates repeated several times and, of course, the FBI’s employment of a few people who shared personal animus toward Trump.
In general, it is a way of turning attention away from the body of the Mueller Report findings to actions that may be seen and interpreted as an unfair start to the whole question.
If it feels as if we have already been down this road several times, it is because we have—by House Republicans Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), Mike Meadows (N.C.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio), and now by Senator Graham, by multiple investigations by the FBI inspector general, among others.
But Barr’s use of the word “spying” during congressional testimony has re-stirred the embers, and the attorney general now vows a full investigation of all of the conspiracy theories that Republicans have outlined.
Making political points
Trump campaign officials have told The Washington Post that their goal “is to turn the Russia probe into a political winner that could help him secure another term.”
Among the specific targets:
- Spying. Trump hailed a recent New York Times article that detailed how the FBI sent a woman agent to buddy up with former campaign aide George Papadopolous after hearing from Australian intelligence that he was talking with Russians about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. FBI sources say that is perfectly consistent procedure, not “spying.”
- Dossier. Trump has decried the sourcing, funding and use of an unproved dossier compiled by a former British spy who was hearing reports about Trump and Russians. FBI officials have said yes, the dossier was paid for at different times by Republicans, Democrats and the FBI, but that it was used sparingly—and is not part of the Mueller Report.
- Carter Page and FISA. Republicans have claimed that the FBI’s surveillance of Carter Page, former Trump campaign adviser whose communications were under watch late 2016 and early 2017 under a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, amounted to political spying. Surveillance of Page took place after he left the Trump campaign and was authorized by several judges.
- FBI insiders. Republicans have publicly and repeatedly knocked the participation in both the Clinton and Trump investigations of agents Peter Strzok and lawyer Lisa Page, lovers who exchanged personal emails that criticized Trump. The FBI dumped both from investigations once those emails were publicized. Trump also targeted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe who left the FBI, after Trump criticized him as biased because his wife was a local Democratic candidate.
The Mueller report documented that the FBI’s counterintelligence probe began after Australians alerted U.S. officials that Papadopoulos claimed in 2016 that he had heard about a Russian effort to help the Trump campaign by anonymously releasing damaging information about Clinton. The report also documented multiple contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials as the Kremlin was taking action to interfere in the election. Several Trump aides were receptive to Russian help, and some were convicted of lying to investigators about their communications with Russians, the report found. Mueller did not establish that Trump’s campaign conspired in Russia’s effort to influence the election.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is conducting an internal investigation into aspects of the Russia probe, including the FISA warrant targeting Page. Barr has said Horowitz’s report would probably be completed in May or June.
Just how important any of this will prove in the elections is an open question, of course, but it does play into the Trump self-view as a blameless victim perfectly.
All you have to do is close your eyes to what the reports say did go on over the last three years.