- President Donald Trump has gotten a huge boost from a handful of conservative House members in his quest to counter special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
- Many of those congressmen are members of the conservative Freedom Caucus.
- Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told Business Insider that his members have taken the lead on battling Mueller because they have a disproportionate number of their members on a key committee.
While President Donald Trump has spent months seeking to delegitimize special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, a small group of conservative congressmen has done much of the heavy lifting in combating the investigation.
There’s Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a freshman who is close to the Freedom Caucus and has led the right-wing charge to tear down the special counsel while focusing attention on 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and the 2010 Uranium One deal that has garnered much attention in the conservative press. In November, he even helped introduce a high-profile resolution to remove Mueller from the investigation. And he was influential in the effort to call for a second special counsel to investigate Clinton.
Late last year, Gaetz accused Mueller and his team of staging a “coup d’etat” against Trump.
A representative for Gaetz did not return a request for comment from Business Insider.
Meanwhile, Freedom Caucus heavyweights like Reps. Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, Ron DeSantis, Louie Gohmert, and others have taken aim at Mueller, Clinton, the FBI, the Department of Justice,Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, providing the White House with much-needed backup. They have taken aim at the probe in high-profile congressional hearings, held press conferences to criticise what they characterised as conflicts of interests among investigators working on the probe, and have reiterated some of the president’s favourite talking points, pointing to a “deep state” conspiracy.
Trump himself has taken notice.
“Great congressmen, in particular, some of the congressmen have been unbelievable in pointing out what a witch hunt the whole thing is,” he told The New York Times last month.
Some of the congressmen have been in touch with the administration to discuss the probe. Gaetz and DeSantis reportedly discussed the probe with Trump during an Air Force One flight last month.Asked in a CNN interview about whether he has discussed the probe with the administration, Jordan hinted that he talks with the White House “about all kinds of things.”
Meadows, the Freedom Caucus chairman, told Business Insider on Thursday that the handful of conservative members have been outspoken because a large number of them hold seats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and have unique concerns and insights that members who defend Mueller and Sessions don’t have.
In total, nine of the 24 members of the Oversight Committee are Freedom Caucus members.
“A number of the more conservative members are on Oversight, so we get to see a little bit more clearly the lack of information coming from DOJ and the FBI,” he said.
He also noted that Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California, who has also worked to counter the Mueller’s investigation as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is not among the more conservative group. He praised Nunes as having “done great work” in that regard.
Fighting Mueller is consistent with the viewpoints that got Freedom Caucus members elected
Former Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who served as chairman of the Oversight Committee, agreed with Meadows’ assessment of why his members were so active on this front. Chaffetz, now a Fox News personality, told Business Insider on Friday that the Freedom Caucus’s efforts on fighting Mueller, Sessions, and Clinton are “compatible with their personal, political viewpoints and probably in large part what got them elected.”
Chaffetz added that, at least on the Hillary Clinton front, many of those same Freedom Caucus members who joined him in pushing for further investigations figured that the Trump administration, and Sessions in particular, would further that cause and “accelerate the opportunities to reveal the truth.”
“I think they’re understanding that the ‘deep state’ continues on regardless of who’s in power,” Chaffetz said. “You still have to fight the beast in order to extract truth. And that’s a hard uphill battle, but you have good people like Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan who are helping to lead that charge.”
Chaffetz is set to release a book in September titled “The Deep State: How an Army of Bureaucrats Protected Barack Obama and Is Working to Destroy Donald Trump.”
Asked why more mainstream conservatives haven’t linked up with the Freedom Caucus in their war against the “deep state,” Chaffetz said most of his former colleagues “don’t necessarily want the fight in order to extract the truth.”
“They’re just not prone to it, they have other legislative goals,” he said. “But the Oversight Committee, this is what we do. … Not every member wants to be in that combative role of extracting the truth, and that’s often what it takes.”
‘These guys are political nihilists’
Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist and president of the Potomac Strategy Group, told Business Insider that he believes the Freedom Caucus and closely-connected conservatives are not ramping up their efforts in hopes of garnering favour from the White House, but because they really “think the inquiry is tainted by what has been learned.”
“It’s really that simple,” he said. The Freedom Caucus “is a principled group.”
While the Freedom Caucus has made a huge effort to echo Trump on the Russia investigation, they have, at times, been a thorn in the administration’s side when it comes to some of its major legislative pushes, such as on repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Reed Galen, a Republican strategist who formerly served as Sen. John McCain’s deputy campaign manager for his 2008 presidential bid, said there are a couple of reasons why conservatives have rallied behind Trump on this cause.
Among them is that Trump “best represents” what their idea of government should be, and the members “probably really believe in the ‘deep state’ and black helicopters.”
“These guys are political nihilists,” he said. “They don’t believe in government, they don’t like and don’t want to contribute to legislative progress.” This allows them to work “on discrediting the state from their perch within it.”
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