Today’s Big Story: Trump Tells Republicans to “Take Control” of the Russia Investigation | News
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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Today’s Big Story: Trump Tells Republicans to “Take Control” of the Russia Investigation

Posted by on Thu, Jan 11, 2018 at 8:55 AM

This post is excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.

Yesterday, the president of the United States—whose campaign aides have been indicted, whose family and associates are under investigation for collusion, and who himself is being investigated for possible obstruction of justice in the firing of former FBI director James Comey—took advantage of his Executive Time to get on Twitter and tell Republicans “they should finally take control!” of the investigation.
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  • CNN: “It's a familiar charge from Trump. Whether in public remarks or on Twitter, the President has repeatedly called the special counsel investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller a ‘witch hunt,’ dismissing it as a frivolous investigation launched by his political enemies seeking to delegitimize his 2016 election victory.”
  • Later on Wednesday, a Fox News reporter asked if Trump be willing to meet with special counsel Robert Mueller, who will reportedly seek an interview. He responded like a totally innocent man with absolutely nothing to hide, and used the phrase “no collusion” seven different times in the following word salad: “Well, again John, there has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians or Trump and Russians. No collusion. When I watch you interviewing all the people leaving their committees, I mean, the Democrats are all running for office, trying to say this that—but bottom line, they all say there's no collusion. And there is no collusion. And when you talk about interviews, Hillary Clinton had an interview, where she wasn't sworn in, she wasn't given the oath, they didn't take notes, they didn't record and it was done on the 4th of July weekend. That's perhaps ridiculous and a lot of people looked upon that as being a very serious breach and it really was. But again I'll speak to attorneys—I can only say this, there was absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it. Every committee—I’ve been in office now for 11 months. For 11 months, they've had this phony cloud over this administration, over our government. And it has hurt our government. It does hurt our government. It's a Democrat hoax that was brought up as an excuse for losing an election that frankly the Democrats should have won because they have such a tremendous advantage in the electoral college. So it was brought up for that reason. But it has been determined that there is no collusion and by virtually everybody. So we'll see what happens. We'll see what happens. I mean certainly we'll see what happens—when they have no collusion and nobody's found any collusion at any level it seems unlikely that you'd even have an interview." [CNN]
  • As the NYT notes: “That answer was a marked change from June, when Mr. Trump defended his firing of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, denying that it was related to his handling of the Russia investigation, and said he would be ‘100 percent’ willing to give a sworn statement to Mr. Mueller. It came as the president’s advisers have been discussing whether Mr. Trump should submit to what would be an extraordinary but not unprecedented instance of a president being interviewed by a prosecutor investigating him for wrongdoing.”

WHAT IT MEANS: If the president demands that his political allies shut down an investigation into himself and his family, that’s a problem. It’s a bigger problem if Republicans play his game. And Democrats think that’s what’s happening.
  • WaPo: “Democrats are striking out on their own this week over all but one of the congressional investigations into Russian meddling, independently releasing reports and transcripts, and attacking Republicans they accuse of intentionally undermining active probes in deference to President Trump. … Increasingly, Democrats see Republicans as dedicating more energy to attacking federal law enforcement than seriously investigating the allegations that have been unearthed. For them, the criminal referral of [Christopher] Steele—who approached the FBI in 2016 over concerns Trump could be blackmailed or compromised, Simpson told the committee—was ‘a breaking point,’ according to one congressional aide.”
  • The transcript of the interview with Simpson that Feinstein released earlier this week buttresses that point. The Democrats’ questioners wanted answers about how the investigation took shape and what it found. The Republicans, however, seemed to care a whole lot more about Fusion GPS’s business structure.
  • WaPo again: “Of the three congressional panels investigating the president and Russia, only the Senate Intelligence Committee appears to have maintained bipartisan calm. Panel heads Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) continue to cooperate as they interview witnesses. But it is unclear whether their investigation will conclude soon enough to serve as a cautionary lesson for future election cycles, which experts believe will be as susceptible to foreign meddling as the 2016 presidential contest was.”

Related: After his lawyer sued Fusion GPS and Buzzfeed over the release of the salacious Steele dossier, Trump told reporters once again that he wants to make it easier to sue media organization and called the current libel laws “a sham.” [NYT]
  • “The salvo from Mr. Trump, who has long expressed hostility toward traditional press freedoms, followed a days-long effort by him and his team to undercut the unflattering portrayal of the White House in a new book by the writer Michael Wolff. ‘We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws, so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts,’ Mr. Trump said during a public portion of a cabinet meeting in the White House.”
  • Quick fact check: If I or my newspaper say something false about you, an everyday citizen, you do have recourse in the courts (provided you file your claim within the statute of limitations). But the standard for libel is much higher for public figures like the president (or any public official); they have to show actual malice, meaning the news organization knew the defamatory statement was false and published it anyway. Getting rid of that actual malice standard, which (I think?) is what Trump is hinting at, would only be a way for politicians to shut down criticism of themselves. It’s a dangerous road to go down.

Related: Last night, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway claimed that “nobody [at the White House] talks about Hillary Clinton.” [WaPo] Trump, this morning:

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