Frustrated Trump lashes out at FBI

President Trump is angry and frustrated over the removal of a senior FBI official from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team over alleged anti-Trump text messages, a development that surfaced after former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea in the Russia investigation.

People close to the White House say Trump’s frustration explains some of his tweets and statements lashing out at the FBI, but insist the president’s team is not shifting its legal strategy in response to the probe.

“When you see this partisan bend, there’s a desire there to respond,” said one former Trump transition and campaign official, who requested anonymity to talk about the probe. “You have the president pointing out the FBI needs to be free of this bias.”

The top FBI agent assigned to Mueller’s probe into Russia’s 2016 election interference, Peter Strzok, was reassigned over the summer because of text messages he allegedly sent to a woman that criticized Trump and praised Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE.

Trump and his allies used the story, which was published Saturday in The New York Times and The Washington Post, to bolster their argument the Russia investigation is merely a politically motivated “witch hunt” against the president.

Despite Trump’s mounting frustration with the probe, the White House has decided that cooperating with the special counsel’s office is the best way to bring it to a swift conclusion.

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The president is not considering the most drastic measures to head off the investigation, such as a pardon of Flynn or axing Mueller.

 

“The president is definitely not considering pardoning Gen. Flynn or firing the special counsel, as he has repeatedly said over the past five months,” said Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer charged with handling the Russia investigation.

Multiple current and former White House officials have sat for interviews with Mueller’s team of prosecutors, and the White House has turned over reams of documents to his office.

Cobb has also sought to assure the president that the investigation will conclude by the end of the year or shortly thereafter.

That approach is likely to continue, despite warnings from several of Trump’s friends and allies that Mueller is endangering his presidency.

At the same time, the president is attempting to muddy the waters by seeking to discredit the FBI’s team of investigators as the Russia probe moves closer to the White House.

In a string of tweets over the weekend, Trump argued Clinton received special treatment from the FBI and that the agency was damaged by former Director James Comey’s leadership.

“After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters — worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness,” Trump tweeted.

The president repeatedly cited reports about Strzok, a top FBI counterintelligence investigator who also played a leading role in the Clinton email probe in 2016, which ended with no charges brought against Trump’s Democratic opponent.

“Now it all starts to make sense!” Trump tweeted.

Trump doubled down on that argument on Monday, telling reporters it is “very unfair” Flynn was charged with a crime and Clinton was not.

Mueller has thus far charged four people in his investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia’s election-meddling efforts, most recently Flynn, who is widely viewed as the special counsel’s biggest get.

Flynn’s decision to plead guilty to lying to the FBI and cooperate with Mueller is a sign of growing trouble for other White House officials and possibly Trump himself, according to legal experts.

The retired Army lieutenant general was a close confidant of Trump during the campaign and spent nearly a month at the highest levels of the White House, meaning he could reveal damaging information to Mueller’s team.

The president has repeatedly denied that he or anyone on his campaign colluded with Russia, but Mueller’s probe has expanded its scope to look into possible obstruction of justice and financial crimes, too.

In turn, some Trump allies are urging a more aggressive response from the White House to counter Mueller’s investigation.

“Robert Mueller poses an existential threat to the Trump presidency,” Chris Ruddy, a Trump friend and the CEO of Newsmax, said Sunday on ABC News’s “This Week.”

Asked about White House lawyers’ insistence the probe will wrap up quickly, Ruddy responded, “Well, I don’t know what they’re smoking.”

“You get a picture that this investigation is out to get the president,” he said. “And I’m actually concerned, you know, that they’re not going to be fair at the end of the day.”

That line of thinking is more in line with Trump’s natural instinct, which is to punch back hard against his opponents. It’s an attitude that dates back to his real estate career, when he was mentored by the hard-charging attorney Roy Cohn.

But Trump’s determination to keep talking and tweeting about the Russia investigation has frustrated some in the White House.

The latest example is the president’s Saturday tweet claiming Flynn had been fired over false statements not only to Vice President Pence, but to the FBI — a stunning claim that legal experts said could open the president to charges of obstruction of justice.

 The message implied that Trump had known Flynn made false statements to agents about his talks with Russia’s U.S. ambassador at the time he fired him, and appeared to add new significance to his decision to fire Comey, who was investigating Flynn.

It forced the White House to scramble to respond. One of Trump’s lawyers, John Dowd, later said he drafted the message — a detail that could limit the president’s legal exposure.

By Monday, Dowd was arguing the president, by nature, cannot obstruct justice.

“The president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case,” the attorney told multiple news outlets.