- It emerged on Friday that US special counsel Robert Mueller had filed the first charges in the Russia investigation.
- Donald Trump’s most stalwart allies promptly had a Twitter meltdown.
- Some called for Trump to fire Mueller and investigate him, while others accused Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia.
On Friday, CNN reported that a federal grand jury approved the first charges special counsel Robert Mueller had filed as part of the Russia investigation — and US President Donald Trump’s closest allies melted down.
Mueller is tasked with investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. He is also looking into whether anyone on the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the election in his favour, and his decision to file charges likely indicates that the probe is moving from a political fight to a legal one.
Following CNN’s report, several prominent Trump supporters slammed the special counsel or shifted attention onto Hillary Clinton and reports that she had retained Fusion GPS last year, the opposition-research firm that funded the so-called Steele dossier containing several salacious allegations about Trump’s ties to Russia.
Sebastian Gorka, a controversial Trump supporter who used to work in the White House, suggested that Trump should fire Mueller after the news broke.
“If this man’s team executes warrants this weekend he should stripped of his authority by @realDonaldTrump,” Gorka tweeted. “Then HE should be investigated.”
Fox News host Sean Hannity lashed out at the media following the CNN story.
“Guess;Mueller and Media working hand in hand,” Hannity tweeted. “Media to be tipped off. Mueller was FBI Director Who knew of Russian crimes before Uranium one.”
Hannity and Fox News have devoted extensive coverage this week to the Uranium One deal, in which the company was partially sold to Russia in 2010. Republicans have repeatedly cast the spotlight on the Uranium One decision in recent days and claimed it indicates that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, not Trump, colluded with Moscow. Democrats have in turn accused Republicans and Trump allies of reviving the story to distract from the Mueller investigation.
The network’s coverage of the scandal came on the heels of Trump’s claim that the Uranium One deal was comparable to the Watergate scandal.
“I think the uranium sale to Russia and the way that it was done, so underhanded with tremendous amounts of money being passed, I actually think that’s Watergate, modern-age,” Trump said Wednesday.
Hannity picked up Trump’s thread on Friday. “Left needs a dramatic change in the narrative!! Uranium One, Fusion GPS dossier, all out this week,” he tweeted. “This is a distraction! TICK TOCK….”
“This has been a HORRIBLE week for Mueller, Special Counsel’s office,” the Fox News commentator continued. “THIS IS ALL A DISTRACTION. Monday I’ll have the details. TICK TOCK….!”
“When will Hillary Clinton be indicted?” he added.
Longtime Republican strategist and informal Trump adviser Roger Stone also jumped into the fray, tweeting out CNN’s story and captioning it, “Breaking: Mueller indicts @PaulManafort’s driver for double parking.”
He later followed up, writing that Mueller was indicting “@PaulManafort’s maid for tearing labels of sofa cushions.”
Stone spent the rest of the night unloading on several CNN reporters and commentators, including Jake Tapper, Don Lemon, and Charles Blow. He also lashed out at veteran reporter Carl Bernstein, who broke the Watergate story along with Bob Woodward. On Friday, Bernstein suggested on CNN that Mueller had filed charges earlier than expected to send a message to prospective defendants.
Stone, a stalwart supporter of former President Richard Nixon, tweeted, “If Carl Bernstein says something the overwhelming odds are that it’s false lied about Watergate lying lying now.”
Alt-right provocateur and Trump loyalist Mike Cernovich adopted a frequent right-wing tactic and criticised those who were behind “leaking” information about Mueller’s indictments to CNN. “Leaking this is a felony but there is no rule of law with these criminals,” Cernovich tweeted in response to the report.
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, who has backed Trump since the campaign and recently interviewed him for the network, hosted a segment shortly before the CNN story broke, during which a guest, Ed Rollins, accused the Department of Justice of building a “fake case” against Trump “based on Clinton-Fusion GPS lies.”
It’s unclear who Mueller filed the charges against and what the specific charges are.
Before approving charges, jurors must believe there’s enough evidence to believe a crime was committed, and prosecutors don’t usually present indictments unless they believe they can prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti wrote Friday. For that reason, they typically wait until the end of an investigation to file charges.
However, Mariotti added, prosecutors sometimes bring charges earlier if it’s part of an effort to coerce a defendant into “flipping” as a witness and cooperating with the investigation.
And Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, called the “speculation” around Mueller “insane,” in a Fox News segment on Saturday morning.
“What we should be focusing on is the continued lies of the Clinton Administration,” Lewandowski said.
David Choi contributed reporting.
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