• 73°

Al Hunt: Why Trump attacks Mueller

Writer

Al Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist.

President Donald Trump’s escalating attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller are replete with distortions and lies reflecting real fear — he’s in the legal crosshairs. The president’s response, which may be working, is to muddy the waters.

Not too long ago Trump was vowing cooperation with an investigation he said would prove he did nothing wrong. But in the last several days, he has tweeted that the Mueller team is a “rigged Witch Hunt,” orchestrated by 13 “angry and heavily conflicted Democrats” scheming to meddle in the November 2016 elections. And his latest lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, now says the investigation is “illegitimate.”

Trump is also a master in the art of diversion. He claims the real crime is that the Democrats planted an informer in his campaign to make a phony case of collusion with the Russians; he calls it “Spygate.” His supporters insist the critiques of Mueller are no different from the Democrats’ attacks on special counsel Kenneth Starr when Starr was investigating President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

These accusations are baseless on all counts. Mueller has already issued indictments against 19 people, who include four former Trump associates and a bunch of Russians. There were dozens of meetings between Trump operatives and the Russians before the election, and the advisers almost always lied about them, the investigators have shown. There was enough probable cause against Michael Cohen, a lawyer-fixer for the Trump Organization, that a judge authorized an unusual raid on his files.

For those who have dealt with some of the characters involved in this inquiry, from Michael Flynn to Roger Stone (whom I’ve known and covered for 40 years), none of this comes as a surprise.

With this damaging context, there is a simple response that comes naturally to Trump: smear. It has worked before, and he’s good at it.

Take the charge the Mueller team is a Democratic cabal. There are at least a dozen assistants who are registered Democrats; most live in Washington or Maryland where often the only vote that matters is in the Democratic primary. There are a few who donated to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. They were in Mueller’s former law firm, WilmerHale. A partner at the firm, Jamie Gorelick, aspired to be Clinton’s attorney general. She’s now an attorney for Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

This supposed Democratic conspiracy is led by Mueller, a lifelong Republican, who was appointed to federal posts by three Republican presidents: Ronald Reagan and both Bushes. Also involved in the investigation are scores of FBI agents. They are rarely left-wingers.

Trump’s bogus distractions are also a smear tactic. There was an FBI informant who met with Trump aides who had suspicious Russian connections, a perfectly normal practice in intelligence-gathering; there was no Democratic plant. We know Trump traffics in these conspiracy theories; he was, after all, the leader in promulgating the lie that Barack Obama wasn’t born in America.

The Ken Starr comparison is also specious. Starr was a decent man with no prosecutorial experience. His appointment was engineered by a right-wing federal judge, overruling the Justice Department. Starr, an active Republican, made no secret of his ambition to be tapped for the Supreme Court.

Mueller was appointed by Rod Rosenstein, Trump’s Republican appointee as deputy attorney general. No one ascribes any political ambitions to the 73-year-old Mueller.

Yet as patently false as Trump’s accusations are, it’s a mistake to discount their impact. U.S. history has had its successful demagogues — successful at least in the short term; remember Joe McCarthy.

Today, precious few Republicans seem willing to stand up for the rule of law. House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes officially represents California’s 22nd congressional district; in Washington he’s a wholly owned Trump subsidiary. Even those who know better, like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have been too accommodating.

As for Democrats, they are no match for Trump on this score, writes Peter Hamby in Vanity Fair recently. “Trump may not understand much, but he very much understands that simplicity and conflict win the attention war, not nuance. His shamelessness, too, is an advantage.”

The least talented president in modern history has command of the biggest and most effective megaphone:

“He dominates our attention universe to the point where he blocks out the sun,” Hamby writes. “It is as depressing as it is remarkable.”

Albert Hunt is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.

Comments

East Spencer

East Spencer draws crowd for annual community day

Elections

In Rowan’s legislative races, Howard, Warren get off to strongest start in fundraising

Business

From Navy SEAL to Medicare agent, Trent Waller looks to continue serving his community

Elections

In 13th Congressional District race, Budd, Huffman differ on government’s role in COVID-19 help

Local

Rowan County Telecommunications joins new state digital 911 system

Education

School board will consider scheduling public hearings for Faith, Enochville closures

Business

Biz Roundup: Food Lion makes donation to support racial equality and justice

Elections

Republicans rally supporters at Saturday lunch

Elections

Budd holds wide lead over Huffman in fundraising, cash on hand

BREAKING NEWS

UPDATED: 1 shot, 5 in custody after shooting at haunted house that attracted 1,000 visitors

Nation/World

Trump picks conservative Amy Coney Barrett to fill Supreme Court seat

Coronavirus

Deadly September propels Rowan County to 100 deaths from COVID-19

Crime

Highway Patrol charges man in hit-and-run after finding vehicle hidden in woods

Elections

NC elections board, Republicans at odds over absentee ballot rule changes

News

Voters struggling with witness rules in early voting

News

Trump expected to announce conservative Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court

Coronavirus

County reports COVID-19 percent positive rate of 8%

Local

Rowan County United Way sets $1.5 million goal at drive-in kickoff event

Crime

Blotter: Adult daughters accused of beating up mother

China Grove

China Grove firefighters injured after truck overturns

Business

Salisbury VA to reopen entry, exit gates

Crime

Sheriff’s Office looking for suspect in Burlington Coat Factory theft

Elections

Requests for absentee ballots top 9,000 in Rowan

Local

Spencer approves supplemental USDA loan for Park Plaza project