This past Monday, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and longtime Manafort and Trump associate Rick Gates were formally charged of crimes ranging from conspiracy against the U.S. to money laundering.
The president has responded to this news primarily by railing on Twitter against Special Counsel for the Russia investigation Robert Mueller, who is responsible for the charges against Manafort.
Shortly after the charges against Manafort and Gates were unveiled, Trump wrote on Twitter that he thinks Mueller’s investigation is pursuing dead ends and should be focusing on the Democrats instead.
As a new POLITICO report outlines, angry tweets aren’t the only weapon for the Trump Administration and its allies to wield against Mueller.
To start out with, Mueller’s lawyer Kevin Downing has indicated that he intends to challenge the validity of evidence obtained by Mueller’s team via the pre-dawn execution of a “no knock” search warrant at Manafort’s Alexandria, Virginia home in July.
Although it’s far from certain that Manafort’s challenge to the validity of that search warrant will be successful, it’s not as though he doesn’t have a motive for giving it a shot anyway. If convicted at his criminal trial, which is likely to take place next spring, he faces decades in prison — and who knows what secrets he’s hiding.
As former Whitewater prosecutor Julie Myers Wood put it, speaking to POLITICO:
‘”Distort, detract, deny” is a common playbook for defense lawyers. And if the allegations are serious here, I wouldn’t expect the lawyers to sit back or withhold any tool in a quest to undermine the perception of Mueller’s legitimacy.’
The potential challenges to Mueller don’t end with Manafort and Gates. POLITICO reports that Trump lawyer and right wing judicial activist Jay Sekulow told them on Thursday that “he is primed to lodge formal objections with either Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if the Russia investigation took a wide or unexpected detour into issues like an old Trump real-estate deal.”
Speaking to reporter Sharyl Attkisson recently, Trump declined to shoot down the idea that he’s open to firing Mueller if the president or members of his team find Mueller to have overstepped the bounds of his authority.
He told her:
‘Well, I hope he’s treating everything fairly, and if he is, I’m gonna be very happy. Because when you talk about innocent, I am truly not involved in any form of collusion with Russia, believe me. That’s the last thing I can think of to be involved in.’
Is President Trump considering firing Mueller? Sunday on Full Measure, Sharyl asks that & more during her interview with President Trump. pic.twitter.com/QDJv5d8Lw3
— Full Measure News (@FullMeasureNews) November 3, 2017
As POLITICO explains, Mueller’s investigation is, in a way, moving through “uncharted legal territory,” so in theory there is room for a number of challenges to him — but that doesn’t mean that in practice any of those challenges would produce anything other than more problems for the president.
Mueller is not an Independent Counsel; rather, his work is technically an extension of the Justice Department. He was appointed under the law that opens up DOJ work to an outside lawyer when continuing as is “would present a conflict of interest for the Department or other extraordinary circumstances.”
The president’s comments to Attkisson aren’t the first time he has gone after Mueller or the legitimacy of the investigation as a whole.
He’s repeated the claim numerous times that the investigation is nothing more than a “witch hunt.”
Trump would do well to remember how poorly it went for him the last time he tried to undercut the functioning of the Russia investigation. His firing of FBI Director James Comey in May led to the possibly more aggressive investigation of Special Counsel Mueller — something that now includes allegations against the president of obstruction of justice because of Comey’s abrupt firing.
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