Saturday was a day in the Russia investigation that we pretty much knew would come, just not necessarily when: It was the day one of President Trump's lawyers said special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's Russia investigation should be shut down.
John Dowd insisted that he was speaking only for himself and not as Trump's lawyer — after initially saying the opposite to the Daily Beast — but the practical difference is basically nil. This is a member of Trump's legal team floating a reversal of the team's long-standing policy of cooperating with Mueller's probe while suggesting it would find nothing. This is Dowd implying nothing valid could possibly come of the investigation. And it seems to lay the groundwork for either firing Mueller or a political clash over anything illegal Mueller does find.
The comment came in response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions's firing of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe late Friday night — a firing that came at the recommendation of the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility.
“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd said.
McCabe's firing, of course, was also lobbied for by Trump himself, albeit more indirectly. Trump has routinely attacked McCabe, and three months ago he even tweeted that McCabe had 90 days to go before getting full retirement benefits — a tweet that wound up foreshadowing the controversy over McCabe's dismissal just a day before he would have earned those benefits. McCabe argued late Friday that his firing was part of an effort to undermine the entire Russia investigation and all of law enforcement.
And however justified, that has indeed been the trajectory of Trump's line of defense — with some handy assists from the Justice Department and House Republicans. The other major development on this front in recent weeks was the Nunes memo — a report produced by the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee (chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes of California) that argued that the surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page was predicated on the dossier compiled by Christopher Steele and was thus problematic. Some saw the Nunes memo as a thinly veiled potential justification for firing Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. The Republicans on the committee this past week issued a draft report of their conclusions, which included a controversial pro-Trump finding, and plan to hold a vote on its adoption by Thursday.
Going back further, there was Trump early on pointing to the countributions to Democratic campaigns by members of Mueller's team — despite Mueller himself being a Republican and a former GOP appointee. And if there was any doubt about Trump's intentions, there was that time he tried to fire Mueller and was stopped only by White House counsel Donald McGahn.
What is most notable about all this is how much Trump's fingerprints are all over it — and unnecessarily so. It is clear that all of these efforts were undertaken to assist the ultimate goal of undermining the Mueller probe, and Trump has often been there to do the victory dance when investigators have reached conclusions he liked. That is a conspicuous way of handling things for sure. But at least it has made his strategy apparent for all to see.
We'll see whether Trump echoes his lawyer. Regardless, a seed that Trump and his team planted long ago and have steadily fertilized is now sprouting. And it is an invasive species.
Philip Bump contributed to this post.