- In the absence of a publicly coherent legal strategy, President Donald Trump’s and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s escalating public attacks on the special counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation may prove fruitful.
- “Our jury is the American people,” Giuliani told Business Insider. “If they decide that the president is being badly treated, there’s no way any Congress will impeach him.”
- John Dowd, Trump’s former lead defence attorney, told Business Insider believes otherwise.
- “I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere [with Mueller] if I had gone public like Rudy has,” Dowd said, adding: “The president hasn’t changed at all. He always likes to talk. Whether it’s wise or not is another question.”
Sign up for the latest Russia investigation updates here »
As the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election heats up, President Donald Trump is litigating the issue on his favoured battlefields: Twitter and the press.
In the absence of a publicly coherent legal strategy, the president’s war against his perceived enemies in the FBI and the Justice Department may end up working out in his favour.
Firing off a barrage of tweets this week to his 52 million Twitter followers, Trump unloaded on Mueller and the “13 Angry Democrats” he accuses, without evidence, of embarking on a political “witch hunt” against him and his associates.
So far, the Russia investigation has yielded 19 indictments and five guilty pleas, including from Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and Rick Gates, the former deputy chairman of the Trump campaign. Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, was also charged but has pleaded not guilty.
Our jury is the American people. If they decide that the president is being badly treated, there’s no way any Congress will impeach him.
Last week, Trump’s target was the “Criminal Deep State,” which he said planted a “spy” in his campaign to cripple his chances of winning the 2016 election. He dubbed the episode “Spygate.”
The president, who fashions himself a champion of law and order, has long exhibited a distrust toward the US intelligence community, and his attacks on the FBI and the Justice Department are nothing new. He soured on the national-security apparatus as early as 2016, when it first emerged that US intelligence agencies were investigating whether Moscow meddled in the election to tilt the race in Trump’s favour.
Now, as Mueller’s investigation kicks into high gear, so have Trump’s counterattacks.
“We’re focusing on the fact that we’re not trying this case to a jury,” said Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and DOJ veteran who is now leading Trump’s defence team. “Our jury is the American people. If they decide that the president is being badly treated, there’s no way any Congress will impeach him.”
A page out of the Clinton playbook
In many ways, Trump’s offensive maneuvers bear similarities to those of President Bill Clinton and his allies in the 1990s.
The Democratic strategist and longtime Clinton loyalist James Carville in 1996 promised to launch an “all-out” public-relations campaign against Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel in charge of the Whitewater investigation.
Carville doubled down as the investigation grew in scope,telling The New York Times in 1998, “There’s going to be a war.”
Also that year, Paul Begala, then a Clinton White House counselor, said that “Ken Starr has become corrupt, in a sense that Lord Acton meant when he said that absolute power corrupts absolutely,” adding that Starr was “firing off subpoenas as if he’s got an Uzi.”
“The Clinton M.O. was to smear the special counsel,” said one person with knowledge of the Trump team’s thought process. “Those guys lobbed attacks every day from the White House at Clinton’s accusers and Ken Starr. This president’s just taking a page out of his predecessor’s book.”
Giuliani is of significant help to Trump as he goes on the offensive against the special counsel. A former prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, Giuliani has a view of the bureau and its agents that has seen a sharp evolution in recent months as he has aligned himself with Trump’s camp.
Asked during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” last week whether he believes Mueller’s investigation is legitimate, Giuliani responded, “Not anymore.”
“I did when I came in, but now I see ‘Spygate,'” he told the host Dana Bash.
In Giuliani’s view, the former FBI Director James Comey is a “disgraceful liar.” FBI agents who raided the property of Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer, after obtaining a warrant are “storm troopers.” And colluding with a hostile foreign power isn’t a big deal.
If you turn on Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC, you’re likely to find Giuliani appearing on the morning, primetime, and Sunday shows pushing the president’s case.
In often long-winded appearances, Giuliani delivers the line again and again: Mueller’s investigation is targeting Trump in an unfair political conspiracy.
“We’re being more aggressive because we’re targeting public opinion,” Giuliani said. “Nixon resigned because public opinion fell apart. Clinton got through it because public opinion was on his side. It’s the most important thing.”
In any other case, the focus of a criminal investigation making disparaging public comments about the prosecution would have no bearing on the outcome. But as is often true when it comes to this president, Trump’s situation is unique.
“Here, because there is a political element to some of the decisions Mueller and Congress may have to make, part of the calculus in approaching Mueller is political,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the DOJ. “Trump’s and Giuliani’s PR bit here is to kind of numb 30% or 40% of the population and convince them they can’t believe what they’re seeing and hearing.”
‘The more he says it, the more people believe it’
Giuliani is primarily responsible for managing Trump’s communications with Mueller, and his accessibility has made him a media staple since he took over spearheading Trump’s legal team following the departure of John Dowd.
Giuliani’s strategy is starkly different from that of Dowd, who largely avoided the media spotlight when he led the president’s team.
Asked Wednesday about Giuliani’s tactics, Dowd said that while he supported Giuliani and viewed him favourably, “Rudy has done it his way, and that’s not my way.”
“I didn’t do media when I was on the team because I couldn’t, given the relationship I had with Bob,” he said, referring to Mueller. “I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if I had gone public like Rudy has – I don’t think I could have gotten the 16 topics and 49 questions that way. But when Rudy arrived, we already had that. We had a full briefcase, and we knew exactly what was on Bob’s mind.”
Dowd, who is in regular contact with Trump’s team, added that while he believed the landscape of the Russia investigation has shifted since he left, “the president hasn’t changed at all.”
“He always likes to talk,” Dowd said. “Whether it’s wise or not is another question, and it’s not.”
Responding to Dowd’s remarks, Giuliani said that he respected his predecessor but that “dealing with the media was not John’s forte.”
How effective Trump’s strategy of publicly railing against Mueller in what has largely been a one-sided fight remains to be seen. But there are signs that it’s proving at least somewhat fruitful for an embattled White House.
In April, as Trump and his allies ramped up their attacks on Mueller, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that Mueller’s favorability rating among Americans had swung negatively by 11 points in a month.
“The things Trump says, it’s like a mantra – and the more he says it, the more people believe it,” Cramer said. “And now we’re in this alternative universe where on one side you’ve got a three-time bankrupt game-show host and real-estate developer, and on the other side you’ve got Bob Mueller. Really, this is a close call? But apparently it is.”