Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE's investigation is emerging as a new litmus test in key Republican Senate primaries.
GOP hopefuls locked in nasty primary fights are increasingly denouncing the Russia probe as they try to position themselves as the candidate aligned closest with President TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE.
The volleys against the special counsel — who has been investigating potential collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign for nearly a year — come at a time when elections in several battleground states have entered a crucial stretch.
Rep. Todd RokitaTheodore (Todd) Edward RokitaJudge strikes down several Indiana abortion provisions Federal judge will not block Indiana University's vaccine mandate IU parents protest school's vaccine mandates MORE, who is in a heated three-way primary in Indiana, appears to be the first Republican Senate candidate to include Mueller in a TV spot, telling GOP voters he will “fight the Mueller witch hunt” if he wins.
The ad unfavorably compares the former FBI director, who is widely respected in the Beltway, to House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden pushes back at Democrats on taxes Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Of partisan fights and follies, or why Democrats should follow Manchin, not Sanders MORE (D-Calif.) and Democratic Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (Ind.), saying they are using “fake news to try to destroy our president.”
Rokita’s ad is just one example of Republicans trying to outdo each other to be the most pro-Trump candidate in a Republican primary.
Rep. Luke MesserAllen (Luke) Lucas MesserK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Yoder, Messer land on K Street House GOP to force members to give up leadership positions if running for higher office MORE, one of Rokita’s rivals in the primary race, is one of five GOP Senate hopefuls to sign on to a letter nominating Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize. Rokita, in turn, announced he plans to introduce a House resolution for Mueller to either end his probe within 30 days or hand over a status report to Congress that includes an expected end date.
“No one in government should be without accountability, and for many Americans, this investigation looks more like an attempt by the Washington elite to destroy President Trump with innuendo, leaks, and baseless allegations than to provide justice,” Rokita said.
The ascendance of GOP anger at Mueller on the campaign trail comes as the White House and Trump’s legal team are stepping up their attacks on the investigation.
“This is certainly I think a distraction, but I think it’s a distraction to the American people,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), a new addition to Trump's legal team, told Fox News that “the basis of the case is dead. [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions should step in and close it.”
Amid Trump’s attacks, Republican voters appear to be souring on Mueller’s investigation.
Nearly half of Republican voters view Mueller’s probe unfavorably, a 19 percent increase since March, according to a NPR–PBS NewsHour–Marist poll released last month.
A majority of GOP voters don’t believe Trump should fire Mueller, according to a separate Quinnipiac University poll, but 61 percent say the special counsel’s probe is unfair; 82 percent say it is a “political witch hunt,” and 74 percent would oppose legislation preventing Trump from firing Mueller.
While candidates aren’t explicitly saying Trump should fire Mueller — a red line few Republicans are willing to cross — they are taking a different tack from Republicans already in office. GOP lawmakers have urged Trump for months to let Mueller finish his investigation.
Incumbents Republicans up for reelection who don’t face heated fights for their own party’s nomination have taken a somewhat softer tack against Mueller.
Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Democrat Jacky Rosen becomes 22nd senator to back bipartisan infrastructure deal 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 MORE (Nev.), the most vulnerable Senate Republican up for reelection, told Nevada reporters that while he doesn’t want Trump to fire Mueller and he believes the investigation should be “thorough,” he wants “them to get this over with.”
Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke prepping run for governor in Texas: report Support for Abbott plunging in Texas: poll White House debates vaccines for air travel MORE (R-Texas), asked about the leaked list of questions Mueller has for Trump, called it “deeply concerning” and warned Mueller against going on a “fishing expedition.”
“The early warning signs in the special counsel investigation were when Bob Mueller filled the team with partisan Democratic prosecutors,” he told a Texas radio station. “History has taught that the problem with special prosecutors … is over and over again they become fishing expeditions.”
Underscoring the potential disconnect between the primary fights and the looming shift to the general election, the Republican National Committee blasted out a note to reporters on Thursday arguing that the Russia election won’t matter in November.
“It’s not the never-ending Russia investigation, White House palace intrigue, or the President’s tweets. It’s the economy, stupid!” the GOP campaign arm said, pointing to polling from Morning Consult that showed Americans were most concerned about economic issues.
But that’s done little to quell growing rhetorical fire from GOP Senate hopefuls.
Each of the candidates in the final Indiana GOP primary debate called for the investigation to end, with Rokita adding that Mueller either needs to “show his cards or fold his hand.”
Most of the Republicans hammering Mueller and the Russia investigation are running in states that Trump won in the 2016 presidential election, a list that includes Indiana.
In Montana, another state won by Trump, Troy Downing, who is competing in a four-way Senate primary, said Mueller’s probe has gone “on too long, no collusion, needs to end!”
Michael Flynn — Trump’s former national security advisor who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators and is reportedly working with Mueller’s probe — is set to campaign with Downing on Sunday.
Anger over Mueller’s probe was also apparent during a nationally televised debate between three Senate GOP candidates in West Virginia, where primary voters will head to the polls next week.
Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsWest Virginia New Members 2019 Republican Carol Miller holds off Democrat in West Virginia House race Trump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report MORE said Mueller should “end this investigation now.” Meanwhile Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, while sidestepping if he believes Trump should fire Mueller, added: “I think it needs to come to an end. It’s a witch hunt.”
A third West Virginia candidate, former coal CEO Don Blankenship, who was released from prison less than a year ago, touted his own clash with the Justice Department to say he understands Trump’s frustrations.
“You know I’ve had a little personal experience with the Justice Department,” he said to laughter and applause from the audience. “They lie a lot, too. ... The Mueller investigation should end.”