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Trump steps up attacks on Mueller

President TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE on Tuesday intensified his attacks on Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE, predicting the special counsel’s team will be “MEDDLING” in the fall midterm elections in order to hurt Republican candidates.

Trump’s Twitter outburst, in which he labeled Mueller’s investigators as “13 Angry Democrats," is his latest attempt to undercut the credibility of the Russia investigation by arguing it is politically motivated.

“The 13 Angry Democrats (plus people who worked 8 years for Obama) working on the rigged Russia Witch Hunt, will be MEDDLING with the mid-term elections, especially now that Republicans (stay tough!) are taking the lead in Polls,” the president wrote. “There was no Collusion, except by the Democrats!”

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Mueller, a Republican, has indicted four former Trump aides thus far in the wide-ranging probe into ties between the president’s campaign and Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The man who appointed him, Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinRosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' Comey argues Trump shouldn't be prosecuted after leaving Oval Office Trump turns his ire toward Cabinet members MORE, is also a Republican who was nominated to the Justice Department by Trump himself.

As the investigation has encroached on the president’s inner circle, Trump has increasingly made Mueller the target of his sharp tongue.

His use of the word “rigged,” which he frequently deployed during the campaign, is an effort to convince his supporters that the result of the Russia investigation will be tainted by bias.

“Why aren’t the 13 Angry and heavily conflicted Democrats investigating the totally Crooked Campaign of totally Crooked Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMedia circles wagons for conspiracy theorist Neera Tanden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm MORE,” Trump asked in another tweet early Tuesday. “It’s a Rigged Witch Hunt, that’s why! Ask them if they enjoyed her after election celebration!”

Just minutes later, Trump wrote that he should focus his attention more heavily on key policy issues instead of the Russia investigation, something many of his associates have pushed him to do.

"Sorry, I've got to start focusing my energy on North Korea Nuclear, bad Trade Deals, VA Choice, the Economy, rebuilding the Military, and so much more, and not on the Rigged Russia Witch Hunt that should be investigating Clinton/Russia/FBI/Justice/Obama/Comey/Lynch etc.," he tweeted.

There is no indication, however, Trump plans to abandon his aggressive public-relations war against Mueller.

By turning the investigation into another partisan fight, he has eroded Republican support for the special counsel.

A CNN poll taken earlier this month found a slight decrease in support for the Mueller probe amid all Americans, falling to 44 percent from 48 percent in March. But Republicans now give Mueller just a 17 percent approval rating, down from 29 percent.

Six in ten Republicans said Mueller is not conducting a fair investigation, according to a Quinnipiac University survey released in April. That is an increase from March, when under half said the same.
 
That shift in attitudes could help Trump if Mueller’s findings are ever referred to Congress for possible impeachment proceedings.
 
It is the product of a change in legal strategies for Trump, who has become more willing to directly attack Mueller than he was under his previous team of attorneys.
 
The president’s new lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), has joined him in taking on Mueller head-on in the press.
 
Giuliani said during a CNN interview on Sunday that the special counsel’s probe is ”illegitimate" and acknowledged the Trump legal team's strategy is to move public opinion in the event of impeachment.
 
"They're giving us the material to do it,” Giuliani said of Mueller’s team. “Of course, we have to do it in defending the president. We are defending here, it is for public opinion, because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach, not impeach.”
 
But the attacks have also included a steady stream of false or misleading claims, which critics have seized upon to defend the Mueller team.
 
Some members of the special counsel’s office have contributed to Democratic candidates, but not 13 as Trump has claimed. Justice Department policy says political affiliation cannot be taken into account in hiring decisions.
 
Trump also has increasingly focused on what he calls “spygate,” an accusation that the Obama administration placed a spy within his campaign.
 
The activity in question is a confidential source who informed the FBI about contact with three Trump aides who were under scrutiny in 2016 for possible connections to Russia. The use of such informants are routine in federal counterintelligence investigations.
 
But Trump on Tuesday doubled down on his claim the activity was illegal, citing conservative opinion writer Mollie Hemingway’s claim that the FBI “was secretly gathering information on the Trump Campaign...people call that Spying...this is unprecedented and scandalous.”
 
The president’s comments have helped produce results, from his standpoint. The Justice Department last week asked its inspector general to investigate its surveillance practices in the Russia probe and it took the unusual step of granting a meeting to GOP lawmakers seeking documents about the matter. 
 
Democrats and some legal experts, however, condemned Trump's rhetoric as an attempt to undermine the independence of the Justice Department and interfere in the Mueller probe.