The White House says it isn’t contemplating firing Robert Mueller. But the president is eager to undercut him and the Russia-focused press corps.
President Donald Trump increasingly believes that he is surrounded by enemies intent on his political destruction.
The battle lines, as he sees them, are numerous, spanning from the halls of Congress to the courtroom to the evening news. And, more than any time prior in his presidency, he seems prepared to go on the counterattack, with a mix of bare-knuckled politics and legal maneuvering, including the contemplation of filing lawsuits.
The foremost threat is from the team of investigators being led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump’s team appears to be laying the groundwork for allegations that Mueller has acted improperly, with malice toward the president, and even in violation of the law himself. Though Trump himself denied on Sunday that he is thinking of firing Mueller, efforts to undermine the special counsel appear underfoot.
The latest datapoint came by way of a pair of press leaks. Sources on Trump’s transition team told Axios on Saturday that Mueller had obtained thousands of emails from officials on that team, including embarrassing and potentially incriminating messages between senior transition aides.
Hours after the Axios story dropped, the transition team leaked a letter to Fox News in which it accused Mueller of illegally obtaining those emails.
The General Services Administration, from which Mueller obtained them, and the Office of Special Counsel have both disputed that claim. And legal scholars have sided with Mueller in this dispute. But the pair of transition leaks demonstrate that Team Trump’s legal strategy is increasingly turning to methods of preemptively discrediting Mueller. Trump has publicly demanded that the special counsel’s investigation wrap up by year’s end, and those close to him say the president will be furious if that dubious, if not artificial, timeline is not met.
But Trump’s fury isn’t just directed inside the boundaries of government.