Trump targeted Mueller in his most direct attack yet, and experts say his comments could impact the Manafort trial

Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty ImagesUS President Donald Trump
  • President Donald Trump went after the special counsel Robert Mueller on Monday in his most direct attack yet on the former FBI director.
  • He called Mueller “disgraced and discredited,” and referred to his team of prosecutors as “thugs” who enjoy “ruining people’s lives.”
  • On Sunday, Trump’s lead lawyer Rudy Giuliani accused the special counsel’s team of leaking stories to the press and said he wouldn’t let Trump walk into a “perjury trap” by agreeing to a sit-down interview with Mueller.
  • The unprecedentedly harsh and highly personal attacks come as jurors are deliberating the fate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who Mueller’s team tried on tax and bank fraud charges.

In four tweets on Monday, President Donald Trump went after the special counsel Robert Mueller in his most direct attack yet.

“Disgraced and discredited Bob Mueller and his whole group of Angry Democrat Thugs spent over 30 hours with the White House Councel, only with my approval, for purposes of transparency,” Trump tweeted, referring to White House lawyer Don McGahn’s testimony with Mueller and misspelling “counsel.”

Mueller is overseeing the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the race in his favour. He is also investigating whether Trump sought to obstruct the Russia probe at various points throughout the investigation.

A bombshell New York Times article on Saturday reported that McGahn was a witness in the special counsel’s obstruction of justice probe, and has sat for a combined total 30 hours of testimony under oath with Muller’s team, discussing key events he was privy to working for Trump.

In subsequent tweets, Trump continued: “Anybody needing that much time when they know there is no Russian Collusion is just someone … looking for trouble. They are enjoying ruining people’s lives and REFUSE to look at the real corruption on the Democrat side – the lies, the firings, the deleted Emails and soooo much more! Mueller’s Angry Dems are looking to impact the election. They are a National Disgrace!”

The “angry Democrat Thugs” was a reference to some of the prosecutors on Mueller’s team. PolitiFact wrote in March that at least 12 of the prosecutors on Mueller’s team are registered Democrats, some of whom have donated to Democratic politicians in the past, and one more has been reported to be a Democrat.

Mueller is a registered Republican who has been appointed to different positions in the federal government by both Republican and Democratic presidents, including Trump’s own deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. He was director of the FBI for 12 years.

In the fourth tweet, Trump asked, “Where’s the Collusion?”

“They made up a phony crime called Collusion, and when there was no Collusion they say there was Obstruction (of a phony crime that never existed),” he wrote. “If you FIGHT BACK or say anything bad about the Rigged Witch Hunt, they scream Obstruction!”

Trump is correct in the sense that “collusion” is not itself a denoted federal offence, but it is a catch-all term that encompasses a number of federal crimes, including conspiracy to defraud the United States.

The president has repeatedly accused his former opponent Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party of committing collusion, while simultaneously claiming it’s not a real crime when it comes to his team and the Mueller investigation.

Battle over the truth

Rudy giuliani chuck toddNBCRudy Giuliani appears on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ with host Chuck Todd on August 19, 2018.

While Trump has tweeted dozens of times insinuating that the Mueller probe is a “rigged witch hunt” and there was “no collusion,” his referring to the prosecutors as “thugs” who “ruin people’s lives” and calling Mueller “disgraced” is a highly personal and unprecedented form of attack that could signal his increasing distress over some of the investigation’s recent developments.

Two sources with knowledge of the president’s thinking told CNN that McGahn’s 30 hours of interviews with Mueller “unnerved” Trump.

Reacting to Trump’s tweets, former federal prosecutor Joyce Alene said, “Any prosecutor knows, you don’t waste 30 hours on a witness who’s got nothing.”

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has also taken a more aggressive and personal stance against Mueller in recent days.

After telling Business Insider on Thursday that he planned to fight a potential grand jury subpoena from Mueller “all the way to the Supreme Court”, Giuliani argued on “Meet the Press” Sunday that he didn’t want Trump to get stuck in a perjury trap in an interview with Mueller.

When host Chuck Todd pushed back by implying that telling the truth would prevent a perjury charge, Giuliani caused an Internet uproar by replying, “truth isn’t truth.”

Former federal prosecutor Roland Riopelle told Business Insider on Friday that the defence of a perjury trap is a “long-ago discredited phrase of law” that had never, to his knowledge, been successful in a criminal court.

Giuliani, citing no evidence, also accused Mueller of leaking multiple stories to the press, including The Times story about McGahn.

‘Pulling out all the stops’

Trump’s tweets also come as jurors in Virginia are deliberating the fate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who Mueller’s prosecutors have spent the last two weeks prosecuting on 18 charges of tax and bank fraud.

The presiding judge, T.S. Ellis, instructed both sides to keep politics out of the trial and only focus on the facts of the case.

But Trump’s name made into the courtroom on Friday when Manafort’s lead attorney Kevin Downing said it was “great to have the support of the President of the United States” – a comment legal experts said may have violated ethical standards.

Since the jury is not sequestered from consuming news media, experts warn these statements, combined with Trump telling reporters on Friday the Manafort trial was “very sad,” could have an impact on how the jury perceives the credibility of the prosecutors in the case.

“Totally inappropriate comment by Manafort’s attorney,” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti wrote on Twitter. “They’re pulling out all the stops to get a hung jury. If they do, it wouldn’t surprise me if Trump pardoned Manafort before the case could be tried again.”

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