Trump turns his ire toward Cabinet members
President Trump is publicly chastising some of his key GOP allies with just more than two weeks to go before the election.
Trump earlier this month expressed frustration with a pair of his most loyal Cabinet members — Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — for what he described as a failure to implicate his political enemies in wrongdoing.
More recently, Trump swiped at Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, seemingly blaming him on Thursday for not delivering a result after weeks of coronavirus relief talks with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Both Pompeo and Mnuchin have served in Trump’s Cabinet from early on in his term, putting them in the minority of top administration officials.
Trump is airing his frustrations amid an increasingly difficult battle for reelection against Democratic nominee Joe Biden. While the president has insisted he remains in a strong position in the race and casts doubt on the polls, public surveys nevertheless show Trump trailing in key battlegrounds as early voting begins in many states.
Trump has also found himself adrift from Republicans in the Senate as he pushes for a robust coronavirus relief package that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has effectively rejected.
Trump’s public rebukes of his own Cabinet members have been remarkable though perhaps not entirely surprising; he has often criticized his health experts and has even jettisoned officials whose actions he dislikes.
In recent weeks, Trump has repeatedly targeted FBI Director Christopher Wray, whom he nominated in 2017, particularly after Wray contradicted Trump’s assertions about potential fraud in mail-in ballots and his description of antifa.
During an NBC town hall Thursday evening, Trump swiped at Wray, asserting he is “not doing a very good job” after moderator Savannah Guthrie invoked the FBI director’s comments that there is no evidence of widespread fraud in mail-in voting.
Trump’s remarks about Mnuchin, whom he has known for 15 years and rarely criticizes, come as a stimulus deal between the White House and Congress appears increasingly unlikely. While some of Trump’s allies have argued against a deal that far exceeds $1 trillion, the president has recently been pushing for a robust agreement.
“So far he hasn’t come home with the bacon,” Trump said during an interview on Fox Business after acknowledging he would raise his $1.8 trillion offer in negotiations with Democrats.
The president’s latest criticisms of his top allies began last week, when he called on Barr to indict Obama-era officials for their role in the Russia investigation as part of U.S. Attorney John Durham’s probe. Trump consistently derides the Russia investigation, which dogged his first two years in office, as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax” at his campaign rallies, claiming his first presidential campaign was spied on by the Obama administration.
“Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes, the greatest political crime in the history of our country, then we’re going to get little satisfaction,” Trump said on Fox Business. “This was the greatest political crime in the history of our country, and that includes Obama, and it includes Biden. These are people that spied on my campaign.”
Trump piled on with his grievances this week after it became apparent that an investigation into requests by Obama administration officials to “unmask” names of Americans in intelligence reports had concluded without findings of wrongdoing.
“Personally, I think it’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. It’s a disgrace,” Trump said in an interview with Newsmax TV on Wednesday. “They’re guilty as hell.”
Asked whether he would keep Barr on if he were to win a second term, Trump declined to answer.
“I can’t comment on it. It’s too early. I am not happy with all of the evidence they had. I can tell you that,” he said.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the president’s remarks.
Barr has been widely criticized for what former officials describe as a politicization of the Justice Department, including by launching the types of investigations that please Trump. The attorney general’s defenders argue, however, that he has walked a line between building trust with Trump and keeping the department insulated from political influence.
“Many of us have criticized President Trump for these reckless comments. They undermine not just the Justice Department but his administration,” said Jonathan Turley, a legal scholar at George Washington University and an opinion contributor to The Hill. “What is most ironic is that Bill Barr was able to bring stability to the administration. He has been credited by many in the administration of righting the ship.”
Rod Rosenstein, who served under Barr as deputy attorney general before retiring upon the conclusion of the Mueller investigation, said the president’s pleas would go ignored.
“The Department of Justice will ignore the president’s remarks about indicting political opponents just as the department has always done in the past,” Rosenstein said. “It may be legal for the president to make those requests, but it is not legal for the attorney general to act on them.”
Along with Barr, Trump also targeted Pompeo during the lengthy Fox Business interview last week. The president expressed his displeasure at Pompeo’s failure to find and release Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails from her time at the State Department, which have long been a target of conservatives.
“I’m not happy about him for that reason. He was unable to get them out. I don’t know why. You’re running the State Department. You get them out,” Trump said.
Trump repeatedly focused on Clinton’s email controversy throughout his 2016 presidential campaign, branding the former secretary of State with the nickname “Crooked Hillary,” which he continues to invoke in public appearances. The State Department has already released 35,000 of Clinton’s emails from her private server, and it’s unclear what if any more there is that can be released.
Not long after the Fox Business interview, Pompeo said he would get the information related to Clinton’s emails out “so the American people can see it” and indicated they could be released before the election.
Pompeo defended his actions at a press briefing Wednesday, saying it was important to release the information for “transparency” and denying he is engaged in a political exercise.
“We’ll make sure that all these emails get to the right place. And we will do everything we can to make sure that the American people get a chance to see as much as we can equitably produce,” Pompeo told reporters.