The Memo: Trump allies turn fire on Mueller

Greg Nash

Prominent conservatives including former Speaker Newt Gingrich fired off salvos at special counsel Robert Mueller on Monday, insisting that the man leading the probe into allegations of links between the Trump campaign and Russia is out to damage the president.

But the wave of criticism sparked other Republicans to warn that any concerted push against the special counsel could be politically disastrous for the White House.

“Can you think of one thing that Trump could do worse than fire Bob Mueller?” asked John ‘Mac’ Stipanovich, a veteran GOP operative in Florida with ties to the Bush family. “It would be catastrophic for him. Not uncharacteristic, but catastrophic.”

On Monday evening, Trump friend Christopher Ruddy told “The PBS NewsHour” that Trump was “considering, perhaps, terminating the special counsel. I think he is weighing that option.”

{mosads}Gingrich, a leading Trump ally, took to Twitter on Monday morning to assail Mueller. He tweeted that “Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair.”

Despite criticism on social media from users who highlighted Gingrich’s praise for Mueller upon his initial appointment last month — he had then called the appointment “superb” — Gingrich doubled down on his earlier criticisms in a phone interview with The Hill. 

The former Speaker said that he was “urging the American people to understand that this is a rigged game intended to bring down the Trump administration.” 

In both the interview and in his tweets, Gingrich highlighted some of the people who have been hired onto Mueller’s team.

Four members of Mueller’s team have donated to Democrats or liberal causes in the past.  

One of them, Jeannie Rhee, donated $5,400 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign PAC Hillary for America, according to FEC reports. She also worked on behalf of the Clinton Foundation in at least one high-profile case.

“I don’t know where Mueller’s head is,” Gingrich told The Hill. “How can you go out and hire somebody who worked for the Clinton Foundation?”

Gingrich emphasized that he was not calling for any specific action against Mueller from Trump’s Justice Department. But others have not been so reticent.

Jay Sekulow, a new member of the president’s personal legal team, refused to rule out Mueller’s firing by Trump in a TV interview on Sunday. 

“The president has authority to take action,” Sekulow told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.” 

Peter Wehner, a Republican critic of Trump who served in the administrations of Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, described the idea of firing Mueller as “a very Trumpian tactic.”

He added that it would “blow up politically. It would be a political bombshell and it would be close to an admission of guilt.”

Wehner drew a comparison to the period when he served in President George W. Bush’s White House while special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald investigated how Valerie Plame’s status as a CIA operative came to be leaked to reporters.

“Investigations of that kind are not pleasant but there was never any thought from anyone that I’m aware of, of firing Patrick Fitzgerald,” Wehner said. “If we had, there would have been political hell to pay — and there should have been.”

Independent experts also warned of the dangers of a move against Mueller.

Any such tactic “blurs the line between politics and law, and that is a risky thing,” said Professor Michael Gerhardt, an expert in constitutional law at the University of North Carolina School of Law. “It challenges boundaries and it seriously challenges long-standing norms. It may well involve stepping into inappropriate behavior.”

Those kinds of arguments get no traction with prominent Trump partisans, including commentator Ann Coulter, who on Sunday evening called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire Mueller. 

Coulter was fiercely unimpressed by the argument that a firing would be outside the norms of political behavior. 

“Republicans are so stupid,” she told The Hill via email. “They bow and scrape in response to any withering look from a Democrat.”

In the event that Sessions did indeed fire Mueller, Coulter added, “What’s anyone going to do? Demand Trump’s impeachment? Yawn.” 

There are other voices in the chorus of Mueller criticism. On Monday, conservative writer Byron York raised the question of whether Mueller is compromised by his friendship with Comey in a Washington Examiner column. 

The column was retweeted in turn by Coulter and radio talk show host Laura Ingraham. There has been intermittent speculation that Ingraham might join the White House communications team.

Mueller was appointed last month to look into allegations of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. His appointment came amid uproar over Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey. Mueller was Comey’s predecessor as the head of the bureau.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer ignored a shouted question at the end of Monday’s media briefing about whether the president had confidence in Mueller.
To Wehner, even the increased talk of a move against Mueller was just more evidence of what he depicts as Trump’s “transgressive personality…He violates norms all the time, and seems to take delight in doing so….He likes to create chaos.” 

Gingrich had a provocative suggestion of his own when it came to Mueller’s staff, however.

“What if you had a ground rule that half the lawyers had to be pro-Trump?” he asked.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Jeff Sessions
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