This week may have marked something of a turning point when it comes to the collective willingness of lawmakers to turn a blind eye or otherwise play down Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine the special counsel probe.
When Rod Rosenstein indicted a dozen Russian operatives for interfering in the 2016 election last Friday, it seemed as though the timing was deliberate. Not only did the indictments come just three days ahead of Trump’s summit in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin, but the Deputy Attorney General took to the podium just as Trump was meeting with Queen Elizabeth, making for a truly surreal juxtaposition.
In some corners, the DOJ’s announcement was seen as a deliberate act of sabotage. Here’s New York Magazine recounting some of the backlash:
“It’s a big ‘eff you’ from Mueller,” one White House official groused to Politico, speculating that the pre-summit release by Mueller “wasn’t an accident.”
On Fox News, Trump’s pal Sean Hannity deemed Mueller’s timing “suspect.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry used the same angle in its response, saying, “The goal of this ‘information attack’ is obviously to spoil the atmosphere prior to the Russian-American summit.”
But as it turns out, Trump was notified ahead of time. According to Bloomberg, Rosenstein “went to Trump last week and offered him the choice: before or after the Putin summit on Monday in Helsinki?”
Trump, Bloomberg said, chose before on the assumption it would strengthen his bargaining position in the summit.
Clearly, that didn’t work out. Putin made a fool of Trump and the joint press conference was nothing short of a disaster.
Trump’s performance in Helsinki undermined his claims that the Mueller investigation is a politically-motivated “witch hunt” (as Trump refers to the probe on a near daily basis) and raised questions even among the President’s most ardent supporters on Capitol Hill. Even Fox News’s Neil Cavuto called the spectacle “disgusting”. As Rolling Stone put it this week, “[only] Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson dutifully showed up with their buckets ready to carry the president’s water.”
Subsequent damage control efforts (from the bungled attempt to contend that “would” actually meant “wouldn’t” to the absurd effort to claim that Trump didn’t really say “no” to a reporter who asked if the Kremlin is still targeting the U.S.) have backfired spectacularly.
In one final Hail Mary, Trump showed up on CBS Wednesday evening and when asked by Jeff Glor to say, definitively, whether he believed Russia interfered in the 2016 election, this was all the President could muster:
In short, it looks as though the narrative is finally unraveling. Helsinki may have been Trump’s Waterloo.
On Wednesday evening, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, FBI Director Christopher Wray reiterated that Russia is engaged in an ongoing effort to employ “malign influence operations” designed to sow confusion and divisiveness among the American electorate. Russia, Wray added, is “by far the most aggressive actor” in the world when it comes to attempting to systematically influence U.S. politics.
In the final insult of the day for a President who, frankly, is beginning to appear exhausted with the perpetual effort to keep up the charade, Wray called Robert Mueller a “straight shooter” and delivered the following verdict with regard to Trump’s characterization of the probe:
I do not believe Mueller is on a witch hunt.
Here’s the clip:
Pressed about whether he had considered resigning, Wray said this:
I’m a low-key, understated kind of guy, but that should not be mistaken for what my spine is made out of…I’ll leave it at that.
So who you gonna believe America? The intelligence and law enforcement community, or this guy?…