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It sure looks like there’s a GOP conspiracy to discredit the Russia probe

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Capitol Hill in June. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
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This post has been updated with the latest news. 

A steady drip, drip of news makes it look as if there is a coordinated effort among Republicans and President Trump to undermine the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and possibly to end it.

Their attacks on officials leading the Russia investigation are escalating, right as the FBI raided documents from Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, including documents about Trump's alleged affairs.

President Trump on April 9 said the raid by FBI agents of the office of Michael Cohen, his personal attorney, is a “disgraceful situation.” (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Congressional Republicans respond that they are just going where the facts lead, and Trump maintains he's cooperating with the Russia investigation. But here are seven flash points that suggest otherwise:

1. House Republicans were talking about impeaching top Justice Department officials: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) spent the past week issuing a remarkable ultimatum to the head of the FBI and the No. 2 at the Justice Department: Give us a two-page document about how the Russia investigation got started, or we'll move to impeach both of you. The Justice Department handed over the the document Wednesday.

Nunes and a number of other House Republicans accused the Justice Department of slow-walking the document, which they requested back in August. Even talking about impeaching a Trump appointee, FBI Director Christopher Wray, marks an extraordinary escalation into the ongoing battle between Trump and his allies and the Justice Department. Trump doesn't seem to mind taking it to that level, though. He frequently accuses the Justice Department of having political bias, using this two-page memo as a key talking point.

Democrats on the committee said this was all a set up to further discredit the officials leading the Russia investigation so that Trump can fire them.

Trump's flimsy case for firing Rod Rosenstein

2. House Republicans may have leaked texts from a Senate Democrat to Fox News: A year ago, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) texted with a Russian-connected lawyer to get ahold of British spy Christopher Steele, the author of a dossier alleging Trump campaign collusion with Russia. Fox News ran with the story in February, “Democratic Sen. Mark Warner texted with Russian oligarch lobbyist ...", showing images of the texts they obtained from “a Republican source.” The implication was that Warner was acting rogue to try to get Steele to talk. At the time, Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) came to Warner's defense to say he wasn't acting in secrecy. Trump seized on it anyway.

In a statement to the New York Times, a spokesman for Nunes didn't deny leaking a senator's texts to the media.

If so, this would be a stunning breakdown of trust between the two committees tasked with investigating Russia's interference and any potential Trump campaign collusion. It suggests that confidential information from the Senate's committee was shared in good faith with the House's committee, which then leaked the texts to the media.

3. The release of the Nunes memo: The heart of the political battle about the Russia probe centers on this question: Was the FBI politically biased when it applied for a warrant to spy on Trump campaign official Carter Page? In the first days of February, House Republicans led by Nunes released a heavily criticized memo suggesting as much. Trump urged Republicans to release the memo, putting him at odds with his own Justice Department and the FBI.

Legal experts, Democrats and federal law enforcement officials have all argued the Republican memo was cherry picked to make it seem as if the FBI did something wrong when really it was following the rules.

But Republicans' memo may have lasting impact. The Washington Post has reported Trump wants to use the memo to allege wrongdoing at the entire Justice Department and fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.

Did Trump just reveal the real reason this memo was written?

House Republicans ended their Russia investigation in March, saying they found there was no collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia and that Russia didn't meddle in the campaign specifically to help Trump win. Democrats accused Republicans of glossing over evidence of collusion and ending their probe early. 

4. Republicans are asking the FBI to charge the spy who raised the alarm on collusion: In January, two top Senate Republicans sent a strange letter to the Justice Department suggesting that officials should charge dossier author Steele with a crime.

GOP Sens. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) didn't provide any concrete evidence that Steele broke the law in their letter. So it raised the question: Why publicly call Steele a liar without backing it up? Below is a heavily redacted version of the letter that blocks out the part accusing Steele of lying.

5. Republicans seized on FBI texts, misleadingly portraying them as part of a broader conspiracy: In December, one of the top FBI officials assigned to Mueller's probe was suddenly reassigned after it was revealed he had sent anti-Trump texts to another FBI agent with whom he was having an affair.

It was not a good look for an FBI already under attack by Republicans. Those same Republicans quickly seized on snippets of texts to misleadingly suggest there was a secret society of anti-Trump FBI agents, or that the FBI had a predetermined outlook of the election and investigation.

“We have an informant talking about a group that was holding secret meetings off-site,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said of the texts. But Johnson was forced to back off much of his interpretations after fuller versions of the texts suggested FBI agent Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were either joking or actually being cautious about calling out a predetermined result.

6. More than a year after the election, Republicans are investigating Hillary Clinton: In the span of one week in October, congressional Republicans announced two investigations related to Clinton stemming from when she was secretary of state:

  • Did Clinton's State Department inappropriately approve a business deal giving Russia control of more than 20 percent of U.S. uranium supply?
  • Did the FBI go too easy in its investigation of Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state?

Democrats say this is all an attempt to distract from the heating-up Russia investigation. A few weeks later, we would learn that former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and the special counsel had charged former campaign head Paul Manafort with money laundering. But not before Trump directed his 48 million followers to the Clinton investigations:

7. Republicans are upping calls for Mueller to step down: Several conservative Republicans have tried to tie this all together, suggesting that the head of the independent Russia investigation is compromised because he was the FBI director when the Obama administration signed off on the Russian uranium deal. Others claim that the team of lawyers Mueller has hired is too liberal.

“He must step down immediately,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said as he introduced a resolution urging Mueller to do as much. (The House hasn't touched this with a 10-foot-pole, probably because GOP leaders in Congress don't agree that Mueller should go.)

We now know that Trump came close to firing Mueller this summer, bringing the White House counsel to the brink of leaving, and the New York Times reported he considered firing Mueller in December.